The golfers representing Tyler at the TAPPS 4A state tournament possess a wide range of golfing experience.
There’s Bishop Gorman’s Nick Meads and Grace Community’s Kelsey Wheeler and Libby Dixon, who all have at least one year at the state tournament under their belts.
Then there are newcomers to the state tournament like All Saints freshman Andrew Bloch and sophomore Kelcee Harwood.
The TAPPS 4A golf tournament tees off Monday at Twin Rivers Country Club in Waco, the same course on which Meads and Dixon earned all-state honors last year. The second and final round is Tuesday.
The Lady Cougars are the lone Tyler school competing as a team at the tournament this year along with medalists Meads, Bloch, Harwood and Grace’s Bradley Costiloe.
Wheeler and Dixon are veterans of the state tournament. Wheeler, a senior, will make her fourth trip to state while Dixon, a junior, is making her third appearance.
Grace coach Libby Dixon, Ellen’s mother, said she thinks that experience will bode well given their comfort and knowledge of how what to expect at the state tournament.
As experienced as Wheeler and Ellen Dixon are, their teammates are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Rachel Balser, Natalie Mills and Mitali Ghuge are all freshmen, but shot some of their best career rounds at the district and regional tournaments to ensure the team moved on.
“They’ve amazed me every tournament — district and regional,” Libby Dixon said. “It’s really been a team effort on everyone’s part.”
Wheeler and Ellen Dixon have done their part to bestow their knowledge on the youngsters. Libby Dixon said the two have used a videogame analogy to explain how the freshmen should treat the course as the opponent in a game to win each hole to get to the next level.
“They’ve talked with them quite a bit before the big tournaments and tried to just tell them some little pointers here and there about staying calm and focusing on themselves and the game,” Libby Dixon said.
The Lady Cougars coach went on to say that what her team may lack in experience, they make up for in work ethic and desire to put in a good round.
Bloch and Harwood represent an All Saints duo that’s young but capable of winning it all.
Harwood won TAPPS 2-4A with a round of 91 at Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson, then shot the same score at regionals. Harwood played softball last year but decided to give golf a go this year.
“She improved steadily throughout the year and ended up shooting her best two rounds in district and regionals,” All Saints coach Geoff Sherman said.
Bloch tied for first at the North Region tournament with a 71, though he lost out on a playoff for first place. Bloch may be new to varsity-level competitions, but he has extensive experience in junior tournaments.
“He’s played a lot of tournament golf, but still, being a freshman playing that well in a varsity tournament’s still pretty good,” Sherman said.
Bloch changed putters prior to the regional tournament and has been working hard to gain comfort with the new club while also focusing on his short game, Sherman said. Bloch will be looking to follow his narrow second-place finish at regionals with an even better showing at state.
“He plays to win; that’s what he’s looking for,” Sherman said. “I think he wants to go out and play two strong rounds and see where he lands.”
Costiloe, a senior at Grace, will be competing as a medalist in the boys field after taking fourth at the North Region tournament.
Costiloe finished two shots ahead of Meads, who may have the most experience of all the Tyler golfers when it comes to high-pressure situations. Meads competed in playoffs in this year’s district and regional tournaments as well as last year’s regional and state tournaments.
None of the playoffs were more nerve-wracking for the Gorman senior than this year’s playoff at the regional tournament at Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson.
Meads finished tied with five golfers vying for the final three spots at state. After making par on the first playoff hole, Meads hit a loose iron shot on a par 3, ending up in just about the last place he wanted to be. With the hole on the upper ridge of the green, Meads knew he had to stick it within a few feet or he’d end up with a 60-foot putt for par.
“I just choked down, didn’t think about what was on the line, knew I had to hit a good shot, hit the best chip all day and stuck it to about six inches and I was able to make the par putt,” Meads said. “That was a huge weight off my shoulders.”
Meads won the playoff just like he won a playoff to earn all-state honors last year. Tied with Lubbock Trinity Christian’s Ben Sheets, Meads took advantage of his opponent’s poor tee shot to claim 10th place.
Meads said his playoff experience, especially the aforementioned chip in regionals, will give him confidence at the state tournament.
“It was just the ultimate test of my short game,” he said. “I’m going to have that confidence going into state because you never know what kind of bounce you’re going to get, but I can be in the worst possible area and I’ll relate to that chip I had at regionals.”
Meads, who’s received an offer to golf at Sam Houston State, said he loves the pressure and is beginning to feel comfortable playing with everything much on the line.
“I know I can compete with those guys and I know there’s always a capability of me winning,” Meads said.
“Seeing myself win those (playoff) holes really proves to myself that I can win the tournament.”
Also starting Monday is the TAPPS 3A state golf tournament at the Courses of Clear Creek in Fort Hood. The Bullard Brook Hill Guard are the defending state champs while the Lady Guard won the state title in 2010.