By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Home course advantage paid off for the Graham G-Men.
Ben Ramsey fired a 76 to lead the G-Men to a four-person score of 323, as Graham captured the Southern Empire Tournament (Conference 39) golf tournament on Thursday at Fincastle on the Mountain.
Graham will next host the Region 2A West Tournament next Thursday, with the top performers advancing on to the state tournament in Front Royal, Va.
“Playing at Fincastle is definitely a very large advantage,” Ramsey said. “Some people tend to play better here and some people don’t, you just have to play here a lot and know the different nuances of the greens and the fairways and just know the correct places to hit it and where to miss it.
“It definitely is a big advantage to our team to play here a lot. We are very gracious we can play up here.”
Three Graham golfers finished among the top nine, with Zach Toohey adding a 78 and William McGuire securing an 81.
Graham’s tally of 323 earned the G-Men the Conference 39 tournament to go with the Mountain Empire District regular season championship.
“They are playing well and the key is we have improved throughout the year,” Graham golf coach Matt Dixon said. “I remember in qualifying up here at Fincastle, we shot a 340-something and we continued to get better.
“We have got great individual players, Ben is a great individual player, but it is nothing without the team. We have a lot of senior leadership, you have got Ben, Zach, William and Jacob (Britton).
“Ben and Zach have state experience so that helps, but you can’t sell what Travis (Simms) and Austin (Boyce) did either. We have built a lot of depth and that helped us out.”
Tazewell, led by Colin Hancock with a 78, placed second with a 366 and will join the G-Men in the regional event next week. Hancock placed third overall in the event behind Richlands’ Zach Luttrell and Ramsey.
Ramsey, who had shot as low as 68 at Fincastle, finished second with the 76, trailing Luttrell, who won medalist honors with an even par 70.
“I could have gotten a lot more out of it,” Ramsey said. “I didn’t play as good as I could have, but it was good enough to move on and it feels pretty good to have the team move on as well and have a lot of fun...
“Just a couple of bad breaks here and there, not trusting my swing, but overall it was decent day.”
Known for small greens and tight fairways, Fincastle played the part on this day, with the scores ranging from Luttrell’s 70 to a high mark of 194.
“The course played tough today and we knew it would,” Dixon said. “You can look at the scores at the big margins there, it is a tough golf course.
“We can play better than that for sure, but it is nice to take care of this and enjoy it this weekend and then get back and get ready for a tough region coming next week.”
Toohey placed fourth with a 78, followed by Taylor Trail of Marion with an 80. Four tied at 81, including McGuire, Richlands’ Dylan Sawyers, Austin Blevins of Marion and Jacob Vaughn from Grayson County.
The top nine all earned All-Conference 39 honors.
In addition to Graham and Tazewell qualifying for regional play, six individuals will also be at Fincastle next week, including Luttrell, Trail, Blevins, Vaughn, Sawyers and Cole Davis of Grayson County.
Graham last reached the Group A state tournament in 2011, with the G-Men finishing in a tie for second, but falling to third in a playoff.
“We tied for second and finished for third in the state two years ago,” Dixon said. “We have got a good team, we feel pretty confident, it will be a tough region though, there are a lot of good teams so we have to play well.”
Getting back there is the goal, but the G-Men must finish in the top two teams among the eight squads that will compete next week in the regional event.
“Really just to play as good as we can in the regional tournament, just try to play pretty good,” said Ramsey, of Graham’s goal ahead. “We know that Giles has a pretty good team, so we are just trying to play good golf and trying to advance...
“The regions are a lot bigger task. We need to take care of business and just see where it takes us.”
Fortunately for Graham, the G-Men will be able to practice on what is their home course in preparation for regionals in six days.
“We have to work a lot of around the greens, that is the key around here,” Dixon said. “They are going to set it up pretty tough next week, we sort of know what they are going to do, but we will putt and chip a bunch.”
Ramsey knows what he must do to help the G-Men succeed.
“Probably just try to play each better each hole, just try to make pars,” he said. “Par is a really good score on this course.”
Southern Empire Tournament
at Fincastle Country Club
(top four scores count for team results)
*Graham (323): Ben Ramsey 38-38-76; Zach Toohey 38-40-78; William McGuire 40-41-81; Travis Simms 45-42-87 (Jacob Britton 43-45-88; Austin Boyce 43-46-89.
*Tazewell (366): Colin Hancock 39-39-78; Lucas Robinson 46-47-93; Tanner Catron 51-46-97; Luke Kennedy 45-53-98 (Brett Jones 54-50-104; Caden Waddell 51-55-106).
Marion (370): Taylor Trail 39-41-80; Austin Blevins 43-38-81, Jimmy Marlock 53-51-104, Hunter Reedy 57-48-105 (Chris Boothe 50-55-105; Hayley Keith 51-55-106).
Grayson County (375): Jacob Vaughn 40-41-81, Cole Davis 49-46-96; Laken Vaught 48-50-98, Alex Benish 55-46-101 (Micah Cornett 57-53-110; Danny DeBord 54-57-111).
Richlands (382): Zach Luttrell 36-34-70; Dylan Sawyers 44-37-81, Peydon Simmons 51-52-103; Cameron Cole 61-67-128 (Luke Crabtree 71-66-137; Joey McCall 65-77-142).
Grundy (643): Austin Blankenship 60-68-128; Michael Yates 67-69-136; Bailey Anderson 92-93-185; Cole Stiltner 93-101-194.
Top teams (Qualified for Region 2A-West tournament: Graham, Tazewell.
Top individuals: 1. Luttrell 70; 2. Ramsey 76; 3. Hancock 78; 4. Toohey 78; 5. Trail 80; 6. McGuire, Blevins, Vaughn, Sawyers, all shot 81.
Individual qualifiers for Region 2-A West tournament (top 6 not only qualifying teams): Luttrell, Trail, Blevins, Vaughn, Sawyers, Davis
*All-Conference 39 team: Luttrell, Ramsey, Hancock, Toohey, Trail, Vaughn, McGuire, Blevins, Sawyers