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KF, NR, Lakeland send golfers to Eastern Region

In conditions resembling something closer to St. Andrew’s or Carnoustie rather than Suffolk, four Suffolk golfers qualified for the Eastern Region Golf Tournament during the final day of the Southeastern District Tournament at Sleepy Hole Golf Course on Wednesday.

“It was crazy,” said King’s Fork senior Stuart Sloat, who along with teammate Austin Saylor, Lakeland’s Ben Hunter and Nansemond River’s Travis Johnson were among the top individual finishers and qualified for regionals.

“Today, it was about impossible,” said Sloat of winds that reached upwards of 30 miles per hour and often swirled to make shots more unpredictable.

“You just had to put it up in the air and hope. It was tough hitting a lot of greens.”

Hickory, the regular season champion, won the two-day tournament with a team score of 619. Grassfield finished 11 shots behind the Hawks. Both Hickory and Grassfield had already reached the Eastern Region Tournament from their regular season records. Third place, and the last regional spot for a team, went to Western Branch.

The top seven golfers not Hawks, Grizzlies or Bruins qualified as individuals. Hunter and Sloat finished in a tie for third overall at 151. Hickory’s John Dawson was the individual champion with a 3-over par 147.

Sloat’s second-round score of 74 was the best in the field on Wednesday. That mark alone showing how difficult the wind and Sleepy Hole were for all the players. In years past, scores around 158-160 were on the bubble for individual qualifying. This year, NR’s Johnson at 168 and KF’s Saylor at 169 were the last two to make it.

Hunter, a senior for the Cavaliers, will play in his fourth straight Eastern Region Tournament. Hunter carded four birdies each day. A long driver, Hunter birdied the par-five fifth hole both days.

Down the stretch on Wednesday, Hunter made a late charge as he was in the same group as Hickory’s Dawson. Hunter frequently played low, drawing iron approaches when he faced shots into the wind. He hit three of those types of shots during the final five holes, including on the par-three 16th hole, where he hit an iron to within seven feet and made birdie.

The All-District team was announced at the end of play Wednesday. The teams were based on average score during district matches. Hunter earned first team honors. Sloat and Saylor were on the second team.

Sloat shot one-under 35 on the front nine Wednesday. Sloat birdied five holes in his second round. He birdied the par-five fifth, the par-three seventh, and the par-five 10th holes in both rounds.

“I was making a ton of putts out there,” said Sloat, who is going to his third Eastern Region Tournament.

“Fairways and greens, that’s what I was trying to do all day. I aimed for the center of the greens and just tried to let my putting do the rest.”

Sloat and Saylor were the top two KF golfers on what was a four-man team, and actually less for one match early in the season which the Bulldogs had to forfeit. In high school matches, teams can play six players with the top four scores counting for the team total. Andrew Cospelich and Will Suhring were the third and fourth Bulldog golfers on a team which, despite not having the leeway to discard two scores each match, finished 4-4-1 in district play and fifth in the tournament.

Johnson was one of the few golfers to improve his score from day one as he shot 85-83 to earn a spot into the regional tournament. NR’s Nicole Hemmis missed the qualifying cut by one shot at 170.

The Eastern Region Tournament will be hosted by Ford’s Colony in Williamsburg on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 5-6.