For the first time in school history, the Lewis County boys’ golf team will be competing in the state tournament.
The Lions finished second in the 12th Region Tournament last Monday, shooting a 321 to finish four strokes behind Montgomery County and earn a berth in the Leachman Buick GMC Cadillac/KHSAA State Golf Championship, which begins Tuesday at Bowling Green Country Club.
“I’m ecstatic for the boys. They’ve put a lot of hard work into it,” said Lewis County coach Jim Draper. “They fell a couple of shots short last year. It’s kind of a dream come true for all of us.”
The first to hit the course for the Lions will be Tate Willis, who is scheduled to tee off at 12:42 p.m. Willis shot a 17-over 89 at the par-72, 6,502-yard Eagle Trace Golf Course.
“Tate - I just can’t say enough about him. He’s been playing competitive golf now for two years. He’s contributed on many occasions when someone’s had a bad day and he’s been really consistent,” said Draper. “He’s never been at this level. Some have played in big tournaments, but he’s never seen anything like this. It should be fun for him.”
He’ll be followed by Cameron Ruckel nine minutes later. The junior shot a 16-over 88 at the regional tournament, which put him in a tie for 23rd.
“I really expect a good day out of Cameron. He played really well earlier in the season, but struggled in the region tournament. He’s got a great attitude on the golf course. I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back and turns a really nice round in.”
Austin Ruggles overcame a foot injury suffered the Friday before the 12th Region Tournament to tie for 17th with a 12-over 84. Ruggles is scheduled to tee off at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
“He’s still struggling, still in a walking boot,” said Draper. “Not being familiar with the golf course, hopefully it’ll be fairly flat. He’s not 100 percent by any means. It adds a challenge, but he tells me he’s good to go and ready to play. We’ll see how he holds up.
“It just shows all his effort and how much he wants this,” added Draper. “In my mind, the mental toughness that he used to make it through regionals two days off his injury is just phenomenal. I think he’ll do just fine. I think he’ll play in some pain, but you’ll never know with him.”
Logan Liles, an eighth grader, will continue a busy stretch of golf. On Saturday, Liles shot a 5-over 77 to tie for 16th in the KPGA Middle School Championship at Quail Chase Golf Club. He’ll tee off at 1:09 p.m. at the high school state tournament.
“He’s really had a good season, a good year and he’s done a lot of good things. He won a bunch of junior tournaments this summer,” said Draper. “He’s a solid anchor. I expect him to be good tomorrow. He keeps it in play very well.”
The final to tee off for the Lions will be Draper’s son, Robby Draper. He finished fourth overall in the 12th Region Tournament with a 1-over 73, and his father and coach believes he can put together a similar round. He’s scheduled to get started at 1:18 p.m.
“He’s probably had just as many opportunities to be in these situations. He’s won some junior competitions, so he’ll be comfortable on the golf course,” said the coach.
Lewis County arrived in Bowling Green shortly after 3 p.m. on Sunday. They’ll play a practice round on Monday morning and have a team meeting with the rules committee in the evening, before hitting the course again on Tuesday, according to Draper.
The top twelve teams advance to the second day of the tournament. The Lions’ first goal is to be playing on Wednesday, and he believes shooting around 315 will get them there.
“I think if we can hit somewhere around 315 we have a really good shot looking at scores that have been posted throughout the state,” said Draper. “We’re certainly capable of it.”
And while Draper expects his team to compete in their first ever trip to the state tournament, he’s also hoping they’ll have some fun while they're there.
“I hope they enjoy it. It’s an opportunity that Lewis County hasn’t had before,” said Draper. I hope they enjoy it and work hard to get back there again.”
Fleming County’s Jordan Hughes will make a return to the state tournament, after finishing as the runner-up in the 8th Region Tournament last Monday. Hughes shot a 7-over 79 at Houston Oaks Golf Course and fell in the first sudden-death playoff hole to Grant County’s Ryan Mitts.
He’ll return with experience playing at Bowling Green Country Club. He shot an 8-over 80 on the first day of the 2016 state tournament and missed the cut.
Hughes is scheduled to tee off at 11:30 a.m.