The Evans High School golf team visited The Club at Jones Creek last week, where head golf professional Brent Smithers offered some pointers, and a promise.
"I guarantee that each of you can cut two strokes off your scores," Smithers told the Knights and Lady Knights during a clinic Thursday afternoon. "With the top four scores counting in a match, just think of what a difference eight shots could make."
Jason LaPorte didn't need a reminder.
Last year as a junior, LaPorte made a triple bogey on the 17th hole in the Region 4-AAAAA tournament, and had to settle for a 77, two strokes shy of medalist honors at Cannongate on White Oak Golf Course.
What's worse, Evans finished five strokes out of second place in the team standings, and that cost the Knights a trip to the Class AAAAA state tournament.
But instead of asking Smithers, "Where were you when we needed you?," LaPorte and his teammates listened intently throughout the session of lessons conducted by Smithers and teaching pro Gregg Hemann.
"Anything will help. I think the short game is what our team needs most help in," LaPorte said. "It's really gracious for Jones Creek to do this clinic for free. We're going to take advantage of it."
The pre-Masters Week clinic was only one step toward redemption at the region tournament, which will be held at the same site in Newnan later this month.
"Some of the kids (playing in the region tournament) are just out there to have a good time. We're trying to win state," LaPorte said. "I think some of the region teams are doubting us because we lost three seniors. Hopefully, we'll go up there and upset them. We've got good talent on this team."
In order to get the Knights tournament-tough, Coach Mike Bibee arranged a solid slate of local teams this season. Evans has split meetings with Lakeside, Greenbrier and Thomson, and every match has been close.
"I can't say we're much above .500, but we've played teams that will kick your brains in if you don't play well," Bibee said. "We try to play teams that can beat us, then when we get to region we'll know what we have to do."
Another bit of savvy scheduling by Bibee includes a tri-match this week at Cannongate On White Oak. That Thursday match will give Evans a chance to play the course before the Region 4-AAAAA tournament on April 22.
The Knights consist of seniors LaPorte and Drew Hoffman; juniors Zac Tilton, Chad Muns and Todd Greene; and, freshmen Adam McKenney and Ben Hymen. LaPorte and Tilton have been the top players, but Evans also has displayed some depth this season.
"We've used everybody's score at least once, so every player has contributed," Bibee said. "We have some young players, and they all are hitting the ball pretty well; but when you get to region, it's a different level of pressure and a different level of competition. They have to perform in that arena, when it counts."
Bibee also credited assistant coach Mike Lennox for lending his expertise this season.
While the Knights missed qualifying for the state tournament last year, the Evans girls did make it to state by finishing second in the 2001 Region 4-AAAAA tournament.
Maria Hernandez, Casey Greene and Kristen Bragg return from that team, and are joined this season by Emily Diggs. All but Bragg are seniors, but the sophomore is leading the Lady Knights in stroke average.
"The girls have a chance to win region if they play well," Bibee said. "If we shoot between 190 and 200 (as a team) we'll probably go to state. A score under 190 might win the region."
While Columbia County schools are out for spring break, Bibee thinks the golf tournament being held this week on Washington Road can spark his team for the season's stretch run.
"If the Masters can't get you excited about golf, nothing will," Bibee said. "It's going to be a motivational factor for any kid that plays golf."
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