by Aaron Burns
The pressure was clearly on Hough High School boys golfer David Sargent.
The junior had just double-bogeyed the 17th hole at Northstone Country Club in the I-MECK 4A conference tournament on April 11. Sargent now needed to birdie the 18th and final hole to hold off hard-charging teammate Conner Lewis and claim the individual title.
This was not a time for the faint of heart.
At that point in the tournament, the Huskies’ stable of elite golfers had already clinched the team championship. The only pressure Sargent felt at that moment was what he put on himself. Admittedly even-keeled, even under such circumstances, Sargent recovered nicely from the mistake and calmly birdied the final hole. He took home the I-MECK title by a stroke.
Sargent, who transferred from Hopewell last summer to play for the first-year Hough program, was the best on the team that day. It wasn’t a title he’d held for very long. Hough’s lineup has such firepower that Sargent wasn’t even the No. 1 golfer for much of the year.
That title went to Lewis, a fellow junior who came to Hough from North Mecklenburg High. And he wasn’t the only golfer eager to hold the school’s top seed. Sargent, Lewis and the Huskies’ three other standouts – junior Mace Timberlake and sophomores Clay Brown and Peyton White – proved to be a formidable combo. All five ranked among the league’s top six during the regular season.
In a game where one mistake – a slice into the woods, a missed tap-in – can alter the course of a season, competition between golfers can get quite fierce. The thought of a bitter rivalry developing amongst the Huskies’ top five certainly crossed coach Erik Herberth’s mind.
“The biggest thing to deal with was they all were used to playing (as No. 1 or 2), and there’s only one No. 1 spot,” Herberth said. “At the beginning of the year it was, ‘Why am I the three-man? Why am I the four-man?’ But (eventually) they checked their egos at the door.”
Sargent said the intrasquad rankings didn’t become much of an issue to any of the five Huskies because, on any given day, Lewis, Timberlake, Brown or White could have won any tournament. He added that the team rankings put a good kind of pressure on every player to be at his best all the time, but in the grand scheme of Hough golf, the number that’s beside a player’s name means little. It’s what the team does that counts, he said, and judging by their performances, his teammates agreed.
Hough captured the regular season conference crown by a huge margin of 25 strokes fewer than Mallard Creek. According to Sargent, that was the best part – even better than the individual title. While it was the high level of focus Sargent displayed on the course that won him the individual honor, the real fun, he said, was the five golfers spending their first year together at Hough. Each teammate brought a unique skill to the table.
“Conner has a really good short game, Mace is a great ball-striker, and Peyton and Clay made big strides since their freshman year,” Sargent said. He added that the team title was his highlight, but to win the individual championship with a last-hole birdie was “pretty cool.”
Lewis finished second at Northstone, but it was an impressive second-place effort. Battling back from a score of 40 on the front nine, Herberth and Lewis had a long chat on the way to the 10th tee. Herberth asked Lewis how he wanted to finish the round. Was he going to close out the day letting off the gas and falling further behind, or was he going to kick it up a notch and go for the win?
Following the coach’s pep talk, Lewis promptly got back in the hunt. He showed Herberth what he could do, bouncing back to shoot a blistering 35 on the back nine, falling one shot short of Sargent.
“I wasn’t going to sit there and cry about (the front nine) – you just have to go out and do better,” Lewis said. “All the credit in the world to David, who deserved it,” he added, “but it’s good that we have so many top players. And honestly, anyone can shoot in the 30s at any time.”
Lewis, who got what he called a “late start” at golf – he began playing in sixth grade – said he practices all the time when he’s out of school. He added the Wednesday intrasquad qualifier rounds his team played, which decide the rankings, are invaluable practice and a fun way to measure one player against the other without a rivalry ensuing. While the constant possibility of moving up or down within the team rankings would cause many players to buckle under the pressure, it isn’t that way at Hough. Instead, every player focuses on how he can get better, and if the numbers change one week, everyone knows they can change again soon after.
“We have five guys who really seem to understand the game of golf and who have respect for each other,” Timberlake said. “We just play our own game.”
Timberlake – who plays soccer for the Huskies in the fall – came to Hough from Lake Norman Charter, as did Brown. As was the case with Lewis, White was at North Mecklenburg High a year ago, but the cornucopia of star players joining forces at Hough was never a bad thing for chemistry or success, said Sargent. Instead, the scope isn’t on individual achievements but more on how every player can contribute to the team.
“What we do as a team matters, and that’s especially true at the 4A West regionals (May 1-2 at Pine Island Country Club),” Sargent said.
It’s the sort of team-first attitude that Herberth tried to instill into the players at the beginning of the year, a time where he admitted he had high expectations once he knew who would tee it up for the Huskies. Herberth, who starred in college at Ohio University and competed in a pair of Nationwide Tour events, said he knows talent when he sees it.
“And it was all across the board with this team,” Herberth said.
He’ll have Sargent, Lewis and Timberlake for one more year – thankfully, Herberth said. But the youth the Huskies boast, led by Brown and White, will soon be looked upon to provide the leadership the junior trio currently gives. When that time comes, he hopes they’ll be ready. In the meantime, it’s a learning experience for the sophomores and an exercise in excellence for the juniors.
“Clay has a willingness to work hard and learn, and I started working with Peyton about a year ago. In that time, he’s impressed me with his improvement,” Herberth said.
According to Sargent, the team is in an ideal setting: three juniors ready to lead and a pair of promising sophomores in the mix.
“Anybody can have a low round for us,” he said. “It’s for the good of the team, not the individual.”