Hawks plan to use state runner-up finish as fuel for the future


Competing at the 2A boys golf state championships at Longleaf Golf and Family Club in Southern Pines last Monday and Tuesday, Seaforth finished second in the team competition with a total score of +56, 44 strokes behind first-place finisher East Surry and three strokes ahead of third-place Bandys.

Leading the way for the Hawks over the two-day tournament was junior Griffin Ching, who shot +7 overall, including a +1 in Round 2. Freshman Ty Willoughby shot +11, while sophomore Gray Stewart and freshman Campbell Meador shot +15 and +23, respectively. Seaforth’s runner-up finish came one week after the Hawks won the 2A mideast regional tournament.

Earlier this week, Seaforth head coach Bobby Stewart spoke with the News + Record about his team’s success at the state championships, his players’ progress across the season and his expectations for the future.

You finished second at the state championships behind a really good East Surry team. Walk me through the two days of competition and what it felt like to see your team put together such a good finish.

BOBBY STEWART: First of all, East Surry was incredible. We came out on Day 1 and we were a bit nervous. We teed off on the front nine both days. The front day was the harder of the two nines, considerably. The first hole, we got off to a slow start. I think we had two of four hit the ball out of bounds on the first tee the first day. But we fought back. Everyone kind of steadied and we had one of our players, Gray Stewart, shot under par on the back nine. At the end of the first day, we thought we had played pretty well and were in decent shape, except East Surry was lightyears ahead of everyone else.

The night between the two rounds, I talked to the team at length about going out there and really competing to finish as runner-up. The kids did the same thing on Day 2. They got off to a rough start on hole No. 1, all four of them, and so they had to steady themselves again. When we made the turn on Day 2, we felt like we needed to put together a solid back nine across the board, and that's what they did. Griffin Ching went under par. Ty Willoughby shot even par on the back. Gray Stewart and Campbell Meador shot a 41 and a 40. There were still three teams to come in, two of which were in that same grouping competing for runner-up, so we watched those guys finish up. As we were sitting there and scores began to get posted, the realization set in and the guys realized they were more than likely going to finish runner-up. They just got super excited. They were so tired and so excited after the round. It was a tremendous feeling.

Three of your four golfers who competed at the state championships, aside from Griffin, did so for the first time. What has it been like to see the growth of the whole team and seeing them tie a bow on a nice season the way they did?

Early on in the year, I think they started to realize they could probably do something special. But actually going out there and doing something special is a bit different. As the year went on, they became a stronger team. They were very connected to one another and focused on each other's success. Individually, they were able to steady themselves, even in the most nerve-wracking scenarios. When all of them played a poor nine at the state championships at some point, they were able to let that nine go and steady themselves and perform at a higher level. It was just exciting to watch the maturation, not only the team, but each individual player. To be able for them to recognize that, "Hey, I might have played a bad couple of holes, but I have the ability to be better than this, and that's what I'm going to work towards." To be able to watch them do that on Day 2 of the state championships was incredible. That's what it took on that back nine. They all had to perform better to have a chance, and they put themselves in position.

You have made a ton of progress in just two years. What next steps do you want to see your team make over the offseason to make sure they continue to compete at a high level?

We talked immediately after the championships and after the excitement had worn down a little bit. We talked about three things. One, the kids as a team — and this is one through nine, not one through four — all staying together and playing together as much as they can in the offseason. They've already started to do that. Two, the top four need to keep working individually on strengthening their games. What we saw with East Surry was that it really helps to have a couple of players who can shoot really low scores. I know all of our top four have that ability, but to be able to do that consistently and in a pressure situation, that's their ultimate goal. And beyond that, our four through nine guys need to keep working on their game. The key to our success this year, honestly, is that we were really deep. Any of our top four, or top six, on any given day could play really well. We'd like to build on that, so that our number five, six, seven players and beyond maintain that depth and that commitment so that if one of our top four struggles on a given day, someone can step in and produce a score and keep us well-positioned as a team.

And they need to continue to commit to the team environment. They just had so much fun playing with each other. It's interesting, someone at the state championships asked me what the most interesting part of the season was, and what I said was practice, at the end of the day. At practice, we were very competitive amongst ourselves, but it was always light-hearted. It was encouraging. The kids were trying to help each other get better. Sometimes I just found myself enjoying the banter amongst the teammates about golf and what's going on in practice that day. As long as we're able to maintain that culture and build off that culture, I think we'll continue to make pretty significant strides year after year.

Looking ahead, do you know of any incoming freshmen who you expect to contribute next spring?

I've heard that there are a couple who are slated to end up at Seaforth. I haven't talked to any of them and I don't know who they are, but I've heard about them through the grapevine. At this time last year, after the season wrapped up, there was already some chatter about a couple of kids coming in, and that ended up to be Ty Willoughby and Campbell Meador, and they were instrumental. I'm hopeful there are one or two out there who can come in, compete and push us forward.

And I'm excited about another thing too. After this year's regional, which was just outside Raleigh, they put next year's regional location up for bid. We worked immediately with The Preserve at Jordan Lake to be able to do that. So we're going to be hosting the regional championships in Chatham County this upcoming year. I think that puts us in a great position. To be able to play on our home course will be quite an advantage, I think.