Lakeland looks to build golf program

Published 10:32pm Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Last year was a rough one for Lakeland High School golf, and while Monday’s loss to Western Branch High School indicated the team still faces an uphill battle, the pieces are being assembled to develop a program.

Western Branch defeated Lakeland 323-441 on a rainy Monday at Sleepy Hole Golf Course. The loss gives the Cavaliers an 0-3 record this season, but the team’s No. 1 player, Dalton Hoffman, has more help this year to give the team a fighting chance.

Lakeland High School senior Dalton Hoffman putts the ball as junior Blake Harris looks on during Monday's match against Western Branch High School at Sleepy Hole Golf Course. Hoffman and Harris are expected to lead the Cavaliers this year as the team's No. 1 and No. 2 players, respectively.
Lakeland High School senior Dalton Hoffman putts the ball as junior Blake Harris looks on during Monday’s match against Western Branch High School at Sleepy Hole Golf Course. Hoffman and Harris are expected to lead the Cavaliers this year as the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 players, respectively.

In 2012, Lakeland only had three players who could compete, when the required number is four. The team was forced to forfeit every match and ended the season with an 0-6 record.

This year, the team has eight members. It is also led by first-time coach Stephen Watkins. He has been an assistant coach for Lakeland’s junior varsity baseball team the last couple of years and heard a golf coach was needed.

He let the athletic department know of his experience playing golf since he was 6 and said, “I kind of happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

He was a four-year letterman in golf while he went to high school in Tennessee and participated in a national Amateur Athletic Union competition at the age of 16. He played on the Tennessee Junior PGA Tour and competed in the Tour’s Tournament of Champions.

Aware of Lakeland’s struggles last year, Watkins said this year, “Our goals are to start building a program. We want kids to come out, we want kids to actually realize we have a golf program.”

When talking to students, Watkins found many were not aware of its existence. He is working to get the word out and is approaching the season realistically.

“I want to compete,” he said. “I want the kids to learn the game of golf.”

Though he said his expectations are low, he has lofty goals: “As far as competition goes, we hope to qualify for the regional tournament. It might not be a likely expectation, but that’s our goal.”

He expects his leaders in this effort to be senior Dalton Hoffman and No. 2 junior Blake Harris, who scored a 97 and 104, respectively, on Monday.

Watkins said he has to work with Hoffman on consistency, but he praised his No. 1 player for being “a good scrambler. He’s able to take shots that most people won’t be able to hit, and he hits them fairly well.”

Of Harris, Watkins said, “He’s a really good putter, and fairly consistent. He hits the ball pretty straight.”

Figuring that a regional qualifying score will be 85 this year, Watkins said, “Those are really my two golfers that have an outside chance of making regionals.”

The new coach said his team performed fairly well on Monday, but its weakness in comparison to other programs is depth. In team competitions, a squad’s four best individual scores are added together. While Watkins expects Hoffman and Harris to keep their strokes down, he said, “The back of our pack really struggles.”

Along with needing to establish consistency, Watkins identified the team’s biggest obstacle as its lack of experience.

He said the key to establishing experience and consistency is simply putting in the time practicing. He sees the possibility of that happening because “we have some kids that are really passionate about golf.”

Some show promise, like senior Beth Campbell, who Watkins hopes will be a state qualifier at year’s end for the girls’ tournament.

Watkins looked positively on the realignment that will pit Lakeland against schools of like size in the post-season. Meanwhile, it will still be exposed to large, talented district opponents that populate the regular season schedule.

“I think this is really going to be the best of both worlds for a school like Lakeland,” Watkins said.

Lakeland faces Indian River High School on Thursday at Nansemond River Golf Club.

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