Leader Blues

Monday, October 13, 2008

SPORTS > > Smith captures medalist honors; Panthers second

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Cabot coach Ronny Tollett sure wouldn’t mind seeing the state of Arkansas adopt the high school golf tournament format most of the rest of the country uses to determine state champions.
In Arkansas, teams play a one-day, 18-hole state tournament, not enough, in Tollett’s estimation, to take the best measure of the best teams in the state.
“Every other state does two days, some three,” said Tollett, a couple of days after his Panthers settled for second, three strokes behind Conway, in the 7A state tournament played Tuesday at Cypress Creek Golf Course. “Perhaps some day we will. It’s equal for everyone, but you hate to go to PGA event and see who the best player is over just one day. One or two swings can cost you the whole deal.
“But I’m not making excuses. It’s the same for everyone and Conway was definitely the best team.”
While Cabot finished second, Panther sophomore Hunter Smith earned medalist honors on Tuesday with a 72.
Cabot was coming off a disappointing 2007 season. That disappointment wasn’t the result of poor play last year, just circumstances. The Panthers shot a state tournament-best 310 last season, but had failed to qualify as a team and thus, were ineligible for the title.
The Panthers went into this fall with the very realistic goal of capturing the 7A title and, after winning the 7A-Central Conference tournament on Sept. 23, they were right on schedule.
But other than Smith, the rest of the Panther squad underperformed based on their meet showings throughout the fall. Tollett blamed it on very difficult conditions, which combined wet fairways that lengthened the 6,800-yard course, with gusty winds that dried out the greens and made the tricky pin placements all the more treacherous.
After Smith, the other two Panther golfers who made up Cabot’s top-tier threesome struggled on Tuesday. Nicklaus Benton fired a respectable, though disappointing 76, while brother Colby Benton shot 79.
“Nick has been an excellent player since he got here as a ninth grader,” said Tollett of the senior Benton. “He felt like he let everybody down, but he had blisters on his hand and had a couple of problems on a couple of holes before he could get that taken care of. He’s been our most consistent player all year.”
Rounding out Cabot’s scoring was Cody Webster’s 83 and Kevan Sharp’s 85.
Conway, meanwhile, which finished third in the conference meet, six strokes behind Cabot, had three players finish in the top eight and four finish at 80 or below. The Wampus Cats won despite having a player disqualified for turning in the wrong score after posting an actual 73.
Ironically, the Panthers posted the exact same score (310) that they did at last year’s meet.
“I would have thought we’d done better than that this year,” Tollett said. “We’ve shot under 300 a lot this year. Hunter could have shot lower but couldn’t get any putts to fall. He left himself in good position but the holes were in some tough spots. But he played solid and steady.”
Smith made two birdies — only one with a one-putt — to go along with two bogies.
“Everyone understood they had to shoot pretty well,” Tollett said. “Other than Hunter, our guys ballooned four to six strokes over their average and that was the difference. They were disappointed.”
But six of Cabot’s nine golfers will return next season, including Smith and Colby Benton. All have played at even par at some point this season and all are, in Tollett’s words, “accomplished golfers.” So a 2009 state title is within reach.
“Everybody would like to think that you can put together that great round as a team and win it,” Tollett said.