Maintaining the Mystique

Myers Park golfers have chance to return to state championship form

by C. Jemal Horton

Anchored by (from left) Phillip Oweida, Luke Thalman, Jordan Warren, Davis Morrison, Andy Simmons and Austin Morrison, the Myers Park boys golf team is in the midst of another strong season. C. Jemal Horton/SCW photo

Although it’s been more than 50 years since the Myers Park boys golf team has won a state championship, other programs haven’t exactly looked past the Mustangs during that span.

Throughout the years, particularly under the tutelage of longtime coach Dave Layton, the Mustangs have been one of North Carolina’s most respected – and feared – programs, thanks to what seemed to be an assembly line of low-scoring players who always put Myers Park in the hunt for bringing home another state title.

Things aren’t much different this season.

The Mustangs have all but one player back from last year’s team that nabbed a regional championship and came thisclose to winning the Class 4A state tournament. Their roster, guided by second-year coach Jason Lockwood, has more than one golfer with the accoutrements to win a state individual title. And on March 17, the Mustangs breezed through one of the most highly regarded high school tournaments in the state, the Neuse Invitational, by 14 strokes.

As a result, it’s believed that this might be the Mustangs’ best chance yet to earn the program’s first state championship since Myers Park won it all in 1956.

“We’ve really grown as a team since last year,” senior captain Jordan Warren said. “We have a lot of experienced guys back, we have some freshmen this year who are just amazing, and all our guys are playing really well right now.

“I think a state championship is very realistic. I would be disappointed if we don’t win it this year.”

The 1956 squad also produced Myers Park’s last individual state champion: Vern Stanley. But the 2012 roster is brimming with potential medalists.

In addition to Warren, the Mustangs boast junior Phillip Oweida, who won the 2011 4A Western Regional title; junior Andy Simmons, who has been the Southwestern 4A conference Player of the Year for the past two seasons; junior Davis Morrison, who leads the team with a nine-hole average of 37; Morrison’s twin brother, Austin, who had a coming-out-party of sorts, at least on the state level, when he fired a 68 at the Neuse Invitational; and precocious freshman Luke Thalman, who Lockwood said, “could be special in the next year or two.”

“With our whole team, during any given practice, everyone can break 40, which is really big,” Simmons said. “In tournaments, our sixth man is sometimes better than other teams’ first man. (Sometimes) there’s actually more competition to get in the match than there is in the actual match. That gives us a lot of confidence, because you know that if you have a bad round, there are other kids who can back you up.”

Austin Morrison’s performance helped him finish as runner-up at the Neuse Invitational. But as appears to be the case with each Mustang this season, he wasn’t consumed by his individual achievement.

“I’ve shot lower before outside the team, but it was really nice to play well for the team,” Austin Morrison said. “It means more when you’re doing it for other guys on the team, building on that camaraderie. (The Neuse Invitational) was just great for our confidence. I really think it turned people’s heads and said, ‘This is a team to watch.’ We’ve gotten a lot of attention for how we played – from people at school, from other coaches while we were there. People are saying, ‘This team’s really got a chance.’

“I played the best I had all year, but it wasn’t just me,” Austin Morrison continued. “Phillip and Andy played really solid, and my brother threw in five straight birdies at one time. Plus, we have Luke out here now, and he’s really good as a freshman. And Jordan, for a captain, you can’t ask for anyone better. Things are looking good for us right now.”

But the Mustangs warn anyone outside the program to be careful not to misconstrue their current confidence for cockiness or complacency. There are a litany of things to help them keep things in perspective, with one of the biggest being conference rival Ardrey Kell, which beat the Mustangs by three strokes just two days before they went to Clayton, N.C., and won the Neuse Invitational. Ardrey Kell also out-performed the Mustangs to win last year’s Southwestern 4A regular-season title.

And then there’s the agony of last year’s second-place finish in the state tournament. One of the things that made the championship loss so tough to handle was the way that the Mustangs played: brilliantly.

Myers Park fired one of the best rounds in tournament history, finishing with a team score of 581 – four shots behind Leesville Road. But to put the Mustangs’ score in perspective, of the last 10 Class 4A state champions, only two teams had better scores (Leesville Road last year and Northwest Guilford’s 578 in 2005).

“If you look at the last 50 years or so at the lowest two-day totals, I think we’re fifth or sixth on the list,” Lockwood said. “And we’re probably the only team in that group that doesn’t have a state championship. But our kids played as hard as they could. Leesville just went out there and shot a better score – I think their score was the fourth-best ever.

“But I think our kids have responded well to all of that, and I think what we did (at the Neuse Invitational) is an example of that. It’s still early in the season, and we’re still trying to get some experience playing 18 holes. We’re trying to get ready for regionals, conference and the state championship.”

Lockwood is in his third overall season with the Mustangs, having joined Layton as an assistant in 2010 before taking over the program last year. The 27-year-old Lockwood is from Hornell, N.Y., and played college basketball and golf at nearby Rochester’s Roberts Wesleyan College, a Division II school. He believes many of his current players have the potential to continue their careers in college.

“All six of my starters probably have the chance to go on and play, whether it’s Division I, II or III,” Lockwood said. “It’s hard because I know how good they can play, I know what their potential is. But at the same time I want them to have fun this season.

“They work as hard as anyone every day – hitting balls out on the range, chipping and putting. It was good to see that come together (at the Neuse Invitational), and hopefully that will give us some momentum and confidence going forward.”

Regardless of how things ultimately play out, the Myers Park golfers know people around the state will be watching them closely – partly because of what they did last year, partly because of how well they played at the Neuse Invitational this month and partly because, well, they’re Myers Park.
“We’re on the radar, and I think (people) might be a little afraid of what’s coming,” Austin Morrison said. “We could do something special with the talent that we have on this team.”

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