Rockets, Lady Bulldogs take big leads in Wells Cup opener
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the ninth edition of the Gary Wells Cup kicked off the 2020-2021 prep sports season Monday at the Buford Ellington Golf Course inside Henry Horton State Park.
“It was honestly just awesome to get some sense of normalcy out there for our kids and coaches, and to get the opportunity to see kids competing again in high school sports was just a really great sight to see,” Forrest coach Andy Burkett said. “In our current world filled with so many questions and doubts, it was awesome to see some semblance of positivity for our community and our schools.”
Golf and Cross County may be the two safest sports for the competitors and the opening golf match between the three Marshall County high schools went off without a hitch.
“With golf, social distancing comes fairly easily, so that was one of the easier guidelines we managed to follow in our practices and matches,” Burkett said.
The coaches are required to keep an accurate log of student temperatures, ask them a series of travel questions, and also monitor other smaller tasks that align with COVID-19 guidelines.
“Perhaps the most challenging for our kids during practice and the Gary Wells Cup alike has been putting with the flagstick being in the entire time,” Burkett said. “To limit touching and contamination, the flagstick must remain in at all times, so the putting aspect has been fairly difficult for some of our competitors.”
“Putts have bounced off the flagstick, rolled in and out off of the safety device in the cup, it has been a little aggravating, but we have to do what is necessary to help keep our kids safe and allow them the chance to compete at the same time.”
The tournament cannot be won on the opening day of the three-day event, but the defending champion Forrest Rockets took a huge step in retaining the Cup as they took a 41-stroke lead over the seven-time champion Marshall County Tigers.
“I think it was a nice little advantage for us to get to play at our home course on the opening day, so we took advantage of that,” Burkett said. “Our guys have been working really hard this summer, and most of them are golf team veterans.”
“We are hitting more fairways than ever, making smarter approach shots, and our chipping and putting are starting to come along as well too. Very impressed and happy to see the work we've put in start to pay off.”
Home schooled Noah Brown led the way for the Rockets, shooting an 8-over par score of 44, while Carter Jones, Bryson Smith, and Sebastian Thompson all carded 46’s for the Rockets, whose four-man combined score of 185, easily outdistanced Marshall County’s 216 total.
“Noah has been an excellent and outstanding addition to our team, it was pretty awesome how it came about that he was able to compete on our team,” Burkett said. “I had been seeing this same kid with a great golf swing at the golf course pretty regularly and he just so happened to be at the course when we had our tryouts.”
“He and his parents expressed interest in joining the Forrest Golf program, so we went through all the TSSAA protocols to get him eligible, and we are incredibly happy to have him as a member of our team. Noah has a true love for the game of golf, even when we aren't having practice, Noah is on the range fine-tuning his skills and working every day to get better.”
Justin Gillespie had a 49, Isaiah Moretti shot 50, and Trey Williamson carded a 54 to round out the Forrest scoring over the 6,325-yard tract.
“We are fortunate this year to have some veteran leadership in our seniors with Carter Jones, Justin Gillespie, and Isaiah Moretti who have all seen some action over the past few years, and Carter has been a region tournament qualifier for the past two years,” Burkett said. “Additionally, I look for a big year out of juniors Sebastian Thompson and Bryson Smith. These are two guys who have really worked hard to take their game to another level.”
Last season, the Tigers failed to man a full squad to compete in the Cup for the first time, but coach Lavon King sported a four-man squad on Monday.
“When you talk about golf coaching in the state of Tennessee, Gary Wells and ‘legendary’ are synonymous with one another,” Burkett said. “When I was a golfer for Forrest from 2003-2006, I was always so impressed with how Coach Wells always seemed to have his guys so mentally prepared to play and compete in the game of golf.”
“It would take us ages to list the talented golfers he has led to prosperity, and that is all a direct result of his efforts as MCHS's head golf coach.”
Easton McMahon matched Brown’s low score of the day and is tied in the race for the Jeff Jones low-medalist medal.
Bryson Whaley carded a 54, Mason Collins needed 57 strokes, and Ethan Spivey recorded a 61 for a 216 cumulative four-man total for the Tigers.
The Cornersville Bulldogs had only two players and are not eligible to win the team portion of the Cup as Micah Riddle shot a 50 and Caden Downs needed 61 strokes.
It was also nice to see a girl on the team for the second time since Kristin Cheek played in 2008 as Olivia Hooten teed it up for the Tigerettes on Monday and shot a 58 in the nine-hole match.
The Cornersville Lady Bulldogs seem like they are on the way to capturing the girls’ title as the built a big 90-118 lead over the defending champion Forrest Lady Rockets.
Annabelle Mulliniks shot a 44 over the 5,578-yard tract to tie the low boys’ score, while lefty Braylin Powers was two strokes behind at 46, and first-year player Jayci Childress had a 68.
“They (Cornersville) played excellent yesterday at Horton, and I look for them to continue that the next two days at the Rec Center,” Burkett said. “Their girls have been very strong over the last few years, and you can really see the efforts of their hard work and Coach Peyton Newton's coaching efforts coming to fruition for them.
“Mullinicks and Powers are two of the more consistent golfers in our region, it will definitely be tough to beat them this year.”
Forrest freshman Maggie Browning carded a 50 for the Lady Rockets, who were without senior Carissa Curtis for the match.
Browning’ older sister Sara made two state golf tournaments appearances in her career as a Lady Rocket and is now a freshman at Freed-Hardeman University.
“Maggie doesn't get rattled easily at all,” Burkett said. “Like her sister, Maggie "Mad Dog" displays a very calm demeanor on the course and has a great mental approach to the game of golf.”
“She works extremely hard at practice and on her own time to get better each and every day. I think she's used the motivation of Sara's success to continue to drive her in the right direction, and she also has the advantage of playing in both the District and Region Tournament last year as an eighth-grader.”
Newcomers Abby Ferguson shot 68 and Christa Warren carded a 70.
Only two scores are needed for the girls to qualify for the Cup.
The final two days of action moved over to the Ewell Butler Golf Course at the Lewisburg Recreation Center on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Forrest (185): Noah Brown 44, Carter Jones 46, Bryson Smith 46, Sebastian Thompson 49, Justin Gillespie 49, Isaiah Moretti 50, Trey Williamson 54.
Marshall County (216): Easton McMahon 44, Bryson Whaley 54, Mason Collins 57, Ethan Spivey 61.
Cornersville: Micah Riddle 50, Caden Downs 61.
Cornersville (90): Annabelle Mulliniks 44, Braylin Powers 46, Jayci Childress 68.
Forrest (118): Maggie Browning 50, Abby Ferguson 68, Christa Warren 70.
Marshall County: Olivia Wooten 58.