FAIRMONT – Over the past three-plus years, they’ve hoisted a handful of trophies and cradled plenty of plaques. There have been numerous touchstone tournament victories and several individual awards.
Yet, for all the achievements, the trophy and the victory have eluded the Fairmont Senior High Polar Bears. They endured razor-thin heartbreaks in 2016 and 2017 and a self-proclaimed debacle in 2018, and each occasion left the Polar Bears short – sometimes by a fingernail and sometimes by a chasm – of an everlasting state title.
As Fairmont Senior tees off in the state tournament today at Oglebay Resort after missing out on the two-day event entirely last season, the target is there once again, and this time may be more in range than ever.
“I mean I think we’re definitely one of the best teams in the state,” said FSHS senior Clark Craig following the team’s Class AA Region I victory at Green Hills Country Club last Monday.
The regional title was a runaway for the Polar Bears, who avenged last season’s third-place regional finish at the very same location with a 16-stroke victory (230-246) over second-place and fellow state qualifier North Marion.
Amidst a morning rain that derailed practically the entire regional field’s scores, Fairmont Senior outlasted the weather with a matured mental game and dexterous display of scoring acumen that absolved them of any hiccups in fairways or hit or greens reached in regulation.
By the end of the round, FSHS’s three qualifying scorers of Craig, fellow senior Gannon Satterfield and junior Zack Morgan had all carded sub-80 rounds with a 74, 78 and 78, respectively. All three scores cracked the Top 5, with Craig finishing runner-up and Satterfield and Morgan finishing in a four-way tie for fourth.
“Today with the conditions and everything, for all of us to break 80 like that was pretty impressive,” said Craig, who was the Class AA individual state runner-up last season.
“We definitely improved ourselves from last year,” said Morgan. “A couple of people probably doubted us from last year and we kind of proved them wrong today.
“Posting three scores in the 70s, that’s pretty big.”
That trio of 74-78-78 for a three-man team score of 230 puts Fairmont Senior into Class AA pole position entering today’s state tournament. Among the seven other Class AA state qualifiers, Wyoming East’s score of 243 was the next lowest across all four regions, with North Marion’s aforementioned 246 next in line.
“It just goes to show you we can compete with anybody,” said FSHS coach Luke Corley following the Polar Bears’ regional win. “The scores that we put up today, if we do that in the state tournament, we’ll be right there.
“It’s awesome when you sit back to watch it; you train all year and to watch everybody play well together at the same time, it’s just a great feeling. It does a lot for our team morale and our momentum going into the state tournament.”
It’s the collective dominance of that FSHS trio of Craig, Satterfield and Morgan at the regional that’s the most encouraging harbinger in their state title quest. The Polar Bears could’ve still won the regional with a five-plus stroke cushion by way of two or maybe even one solid round.
There’s a scenario where Craig could’ve carried FSHS and tallied one of his usual outstanding rounds in the low 70s while Satterfield and Morgan struggled to score in the mid-80s. Or, a more likely situation and one that has propelled FSHS to plenty of wins this season: Craig shoots in the low 70s and one of Morgan or Satterfield flirts with a sub-80 round while the other dips into the mid-80s. The Polar Bears win by 10-plus strokes and everything looks peachy even as Corley frets behind the scenes over that third score.
But three rounds in the 70s – with Morgan rallying not once but twice, first from a crippling double bogey on No. 13 and then a three-bogey stretch, and Satterfield aligning his round with a back-nine 37 after a six-over 41 on the front – that’s almost invincible.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster going into the state tournament like that, knowing Gannon and Zack can get off to a rough start and it’s not the end of the world for them,” said Craig. “Now they know they can battle back and still score well.”
And those slip-ups will happen over the next two days at the state tournament. Green Hills isn’t Oglebay. Conquering the 6,605-yard, Par 71 Jones Course in what appears will be soppy weather isn’t a feat accomplished without hiccups and errors along the way.
The Polar Bears are familiar with Oglebay. They’re aware of the challenge it will provide. They’ve played there twice this season, shooting a 255 back in early August as part of the Callaway Junior High School Series and then a 238 later that month in a tri-match with Wheeling Park and Brooke.
“I know Oglebay is a lot different, but we’ve played that course a lot too,” Satterfield said after the team’s 74-78-78 regional showing when comparing potential scores. “I think we got a good shot at a state championship with those three scores. “We’re definitely gonna make a statement.”
Email Bradley Heltzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bradheltzTWV.