WHEELING – Fairmont Senior High coach Luke Corley warned after Day 1 of the state tournament on Tuesday: No lead is safe in the game of golf.
Midway through Wednesday’s second and final round, those cautionary words had proven their merit as county foe North Marion stared down the Polar Bears head-to-head in what was almost a match play situation and whittled FSHS’s 11-stroke advantage entering the day into almost nothing at the turn of the round.
Fairmont Senior’s star trio of Clark Craig, Gannon Satterfield and Zack Morgan had lost their touch as they sent drives wayward, landed approach shots well off target and gave up away putts as if they were worthless door prizes.
“I think it got down to about two strokes on the front,” Craig said. “It’s hard playing with that kind of a lead.”
“We got scared a little bit,” Satterfield said. “North Marion started making a run.”
But the defining trait of that core FSHS trio of Craig, Satterfield and Morgan – for all of their impeccable ball striking and wedge play, their shrewd course management and even their level-headed maturity – was each player’s relentlessness, a sort of gutty resilience to outlast their foibles and rediscover their flair. Countless times this season they pulled out a victory because of it.
And on Wednesday, they pulled out the program’s first ever state title because of it, as the Polar Bears shook off a combined 22-over 127 on the front nine and rallied to a 12-over 120 on the back nine to ultimately nab the Class AA state title in a rout in a breakthrough moment for the program.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” said Satterfield, who carded an 83 on Wednesday to finish with a two-day total of 170 and tie for eighth overall, “but to be the first ones in school history to do it, it’s awesome.”
The back nine turnaround culminated in a dominant 35-stroke victory in the end, with Fairmont Senior’s two-day total of 504 easily besting North Marion’s runner-up total of 539 and Shady Spring’s third-place total of 543.
“This was our goal the whole season, and it’s just relieving to finally get it done,” said Morgan, who shot a team-best round of 81 on Day 2 to finish at 169 and in seventh place for the tournament. “We grinded all through the round on both days. Nothing came easy.”
“It’s like the weight of the world is finally off our back,” said Corley, whose Polar Bears finished as the Class AA runner-up in 2016 and 2017. “We battled all the conditions – the tough greens, the wind—we hung in there and we just fought for every stroke like we’ve doing all year.”
All three of Craig, Satterfield and Morgan earned all-state nods by finishing in the tournament’s Top 8, with Craig placing sixth, Morgan coming in seventh and Satterfield tying for eighth.
They were joined on the Class AA all-state team by Shady Spring’s Todd Duncan, who won the individual state title with an 8-over 150 for the two days, Petersburg’s Nick Fleming (158), Bridgeport’s Matt Aman (161), Grafton’s Caden Moore (161), Wyoming East’s Ethan Bradford (163), and Robert C. Byrd’s Alex Hawkins (170)
“We’re happy for those guys,” North Marion coach Chance Hearn said Corley and his team. “I mean I hate West side (overall), I’m not gonna lie to you, but we really, truly like those kids and have so much respect for them.
“But we were trying to win a state championship and we fell short. We thought we could make a better run at it.”
“It’s great knowing we’re to that (runner-up) stage,” said NMHS junior Michael Harris who went 85-86 for a team-best 171 and a 10th place finish, “but I mean there’s no excuse for why we can’t win it, and there’s no excuse to come up here and play– I don’t want to say as bad as we did – but as bad as we did; none of us really played well at all.”
Fairmont Senior trended toward similarly universal ugly rounds on Day 1, Morgan said, and were veering that way again on Day 2 through nine holes. Craig, who shot an 83 on Day 2 to finish at 165 and in sixth place for the tournament, uncharacteristically stumbled to three double bogeys on his front nine.
Satterfield had a double bogey of his own as well with five more bogeys through nine. And Morgan, who posted birdies on No. 11 and No. 16 on his front nine, saw his good tidings wiped away by a double bogey on No. 13 and a gruesome triple bogey on No. 18.
“After the front nine, we all talked to each other and said what was going on, and it all just turned around right there and went in our direction,” Satterfield said. “We knew it was our time.”
From that perilous turn, the Polar Bears erupted to ward off the pesky Huskies. Craig recaptured his standard cutthroat efficacy, piling up hit fairways and greens reached in regulation.
On No. 2, he canned a cold-blooded 10-foot par putt. The next hole, he got a look at birdie before collecting a second straight par. He stuck his tee shot on the Par 3 No. 4 within 12 feet of the pin to card another par. He stashed away his driver and played smart with a 3-wood off the tee on the Par 5 No. 5 to march to another par. After a bogey on No. 6, he chipped to within three feet after missing the green on his tee shot on the Par 3 No. 7 for his fifth part in six holes. He finished his final nine holes with a 3-over 39.
“I just kept playing my game and things worked out,” Craig said. “But it was Gannon and Zack who played really well today; I’m excited and happy for them. I think that’s mostly why we won was because of those two.”
Satterfield’s back nine was littered with money drives long and accurate off the tee. He hit a complete bomb off the tee on No. 2 en route to a par, and then he followed it up with another tee shot right down the middle on No. 3 to post back-to-back pars.
He rolled in a putt that lipped around the cup and finally dropped on No. 5 after multiple others of the same variety had spun out earlier in his round. And then on his final hole on No. 9, with the team title cinched, but his all-state bid still hanging in the balance, he launched a deadeye tee shot yet again for another par.
And Morgan found his groove with his putter to follow his team-best 41 on the front nine with a 40 on the back. He poured in par putts on Nos. 3, 4 and the Par 3 No. 7 before closing his round with a birdie on No. 9.
“I made a lot of putts today. Some of their were kind of lucky,” Morgan said, with a laugh. “But I made a lot of putts and I hit a lot of fairways and if you put those two together, you usually play pretty well.”
For North Marion, Harris started hot on Day 2, carding a 40 on the front nine. He ticked off a string of four straight pars on Nos. 12-15, including a pinpoint chip on No. 14 he landed within 5 feet of the hole.
NMHS’s No. 2 Dylan Runner followed his Day 1 91 with a 90 on Wednesday, with his best moments coming on the green, where Runner buried multiple clutch 10-foot-style putts but also gaudy ones over 15 feet.
“To be honest with you, yesterday my putting was atrocious,” said Runner, whose two-day total of 181 was good for 18th overall. “Today, I just turned it on a little bit better. But I had a few holes that were just too bad to make up for.”
Bryce Rhoades rounded out the Huskies’ qualifying scores, following his Day 1 round of 92 with a 95 on Wednesday to put him at 187 and 21st overall for the tournament.
“We’re progressing. Our arrow is definitely pointing up,” Hearn said. “But bottom line, first and foremost is you have to tip your cap to Fairmont Senior. They’re just better than us. We haven’t been able to beat them all year long.”
St. Mary’s won the Class A team state championship with a 532 total, while Webster County’s Rigel Wilson won the Class A individual title with a two-day 165.
Huntington took the Class AAA team state championship with a 492, and Brooke’s Ryan Bilby won the Class AA individual championship with a 145.