Leader Blues

Friday, August 07, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot’s Smith earns junior player of year

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

A fourth-place finish at the Mountain Valley Junior Stroke Play tournament in Texarkana on Thursday was enough to secure Cabot’s Hunter Smith the Arkansas State Golf Association’s junior player of the year honor.

Smith finished two spots ahead of fellow Cabot junior golfer Colby Benton in the ASGA junior finale with a 226 over the three-day tournament. That gave him a season total of 720 points to Benton’s 660. Smith entered the event with a 20-point lead over his high school teammate.

“I guess it’s kind of a big deal, but it’s mostly fun for me. I like competing with everyone,” said Smith.

Smith shot a 76 on the first day and slipped to a 77 on Wednesday. But a solid 73 on the final day solidified him as the overall champ for 2009. Benton dug an early hole with a 77 and 78 on the first two days. Benton improved on the final day, but only enough for a 74 to leave him three strokes in back of Smith with a 229.

“I knew I had to have three pretty good rounds of golf to help my chances of winning it,” said the 16-year-old Smith, who finished fifth overall in the ASGA junior standings a year ago. “I felt pretty good about it – I like that course a lot. I had a bad couple of holes that first day, but I felt like I could get it back the next couple of days.”

The Mountain Valley stroke-play win went to Lane Hulse of Fordyce after he scored a tourney-best 69 on day three to give him a three-day total of 219. Dylan Lovell and Nate Smith tied for the runner-up spot with 225 each, while Smith’s 226 was fourth.

The two other golfers in the running for junior player of the year heading into Texarkana, Drew Comer of Fort Smith and Ethan King of Conway — finished 12th and 8th, respectively.

The run to the season crown was no cakewalk for Smith, who went through a swing crisis over the course of the summer. He said the problem was never fully corrected. It just became a matter of adjusting his style to offset the problem.

“My timing was off, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back,” said Smith. “I just figured out how to play with it and keep going.”

Smith took wins in three of the 20 events on the ASGA junior schedule this summer. He started the season in dramatic fashion with a three-hole, sudden-death playoff win over Garth Branstetter of Sulfur Rock in the Greater Little Rock Junior Championship at War Memorial Golf Course on May 3.

His next win came three events later at the Monticello Junior Stroke on June 5-6, this time in more dominant fashion. Smith finished with a two-round total of 137 to give him a nine-stroke victory. He ended the month of June with a win at the Red Apple Country Club in Heber Springs at the Greers Ferry Lake Junior Invitational, finishing 15 strokes ahead of second-place Benton.

Now that the summer is over, best friends Smith and Benton can forget about being adversaries and go back to being teammates on the Cabot Panthers high school golf team.

“We’re best friends; we talk all the time,” said Smith. “He congratulated me after it was all over with. He’s a great player. We’ve got a match Monday in Conway. It’s us and a few other good players, so we should be pretty good this year.”