RHS golf wins sub-state
CULLMAN —The Russellville Golden Tigers golf team ran into quite a debacle when the original date of the sub-state tournament was mired by rain and poor playing conditions. After some indecision as to what steps to take next by the tournament hosts, Teri Pines Country Club and host Cullman decided to move the tournament back a day to Tuesday.
“They had the course set up the exact same way as Monday,” Russellville head coach Jason Haithcock said.
“It was an extremely tough setup or high school kids. They have a micro open there each year and they use the same setup as with the high school tournament.”
Scores were not yet in by press time that day, but now the final outcome has become yet another chapter in the storied history of Golden Tiger athletics.
The team won the sub-state tournament with a final score of 323. Rival Hartselle came in second at 331, and tourney host Cullman was the final team to qualify for state with a third-place finish at 335.
“After nine holes we had a score of 165, which is the highest score we have had maybe in two years in a match, aside from the state championship last year,” Haithcock said.
“That’s the highest we had shot in nine holes. I knew at that point the scores were going to be high because the other schools were having the same problems we were.
“When we made the turn at nine, Hartselle and us were neck and neck. We were pretty much tied at that point.
“We knew some of the other schools were doing somewhat worse than we were, so I felt good about us after nine. I thought we would probably qualify [for state], but I did not know we would win the tournament at that point in time.”
The course played much better on Tuesday, but some of the problems caused by the rain were still apparent to coaches and competitors.
“The greens were very nice. The fairways were still very muddy,” Haithcock said.
“I would say the course was in good shape considering the amount of rain that poured down on the previous day. There was a lot of mud.
“There were some shots that got chunked a little bit. I saw some players take shots, and their ball went five feet. That’s not typical at that level of play.
“There were some wet conditions, but overall I was well pleased at how the course was after the rain.”
The conditions slightly overshadowed Russellville’s win, but only for the day. From this point on all that will be remembered by the Russellville faithful is that the team won sub-state, a feat never accomplished before by the school.
“I was excited,” Haithcock said. “It is the first sub-state win for a Russellville golf team.
“The sub-state level tournament hasn’t been held for a long time. Last year we just wanted to be in the top three and qualify for state.
“This year we had a goal at the beginning of the season to win sub-state, and to actually accomplish that, I was excited.
“The guys had worked hard for it. We stressed out for 24-48 hours, and I’m just excited for the boys. It’s a great feeling.
“When I came to Russellville I expected to play for state championships in football. I never dreamed of playing for a state championship in golf when I took the job.
“It’s a great feeling to make it to this level no matter what sport you’re playing in. Making it to this level says a lot about your program and the kids that you have.
“Hopefully we’ll fare a little bit better this time around than we did last year.”
The sub-state win now qualifies the Golden Tigers for the state tournament to be held Monday at The Shoals, a Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail course in Muscle Shoals.
Russellville should have a bit of an advantage given the proximity of the school to the host course for the tournament.
“I feel that it does help out because in past years we’ve had to travel to sectionals, sub-state, state,” Haithcock said.
“We’ve had to travel anywhere from one to five hours to play, so it’s not like we get to see those courses.
“Last year in practice for state we only got to play 12 or 13 holes before getting rained out. We have seen this course a lot.
“The kids go and play it, and they’re very familiar with it. This is as close to home-field advantage that we would ever have, so I do feel good about playing on the course.”
Even though the Golden Tigers will have home-field advantage, that does not mean the course or competition will be any easier. The state tournament will be held on the “Fightin’ Joe” course, one of two that can be found at the Shoals, with the other being the “Schoolmaster.”
“It plays tough,” Haithcock said. “If you miss the fairways you’re going to be in trouble.
“Most of my boys understand that. I haven’t seen it in the last couple of weeks, but sometimes they let the grass in the rough grow up.
“It makes it tough to find your ball sometimes, and it is extremely tough to putt out of. It will be a difficult a course.
“I don’t think it will be as difficult as Grand National was last year. It will have obstacles we will have to overcome.”
Coach Haithcock is well aware of what it will take to have a shot at winning the tournament, and he is sure of who his teams’ toughest competition will be on the day.
“For us to have a shot at winning we will have to average around 305 both days.” he said. I think that’s what it’s going to take.
“If I can have three guys shoot 75 or under, and one person shoot around 80, I think we will have a shot.
“I think 305-306 have been what the winners shot over the past two or three years. We’re very capable of doing it. It may be a lower score than that, but around 305 is usually what wins 5A.
St. Paul’s has been there a lot. They have a lot of state championship wins.
“They have a player that just signed with Alabama.
“They’re always the favorite; I can’t remember the last state championship held that St. Paul’s wasn’t the favorite to win it.
“I don’t know a lot about Spanish Fort and Homewood, but I know they had great seasons. Both of those teams look like they are playing very close with St. Paul’s.
“Hartselle is the best team coming out of the north other than us. I look for St. Paul’s and Spanish Fort to be the toughest competition.”
Playing the final tournament of the year at a Robert Trent Jones facility comes with an inherent understanding of just what to expect about the course.
“You expect the best,” Haithcock said. “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses are some of the best in the south, and the kids love knowing they are going to play on one of those courses. It’s a good feeling for them.”
Russellville ran into a problem last year when the state tournament was held at Grand National. The team was unfamiliar with the course, and as mentioned the Golden Tigers’ only practice session was cut short by the weather.
This year the weather may be a factor, but likely less of one than last year thanks to Russellville’s familiarity with Fightin’ Joe.
“The good thing about this is, we have played the course,” Haithcock said. “A rain out probably won’t affect us as much as it would if we were playing somewhere else.
“I don’t think soggy conditions will be that big of a factor unless we get a whole lot of rain come Sunday or Monday.
“I don’t think the weekend conditions will hurt us too much. The Robert Trent Jones courses are in such good shape they’re going to drain well.
“They’re going to make sure the course is in good shape and it’s an experience the kids won’t forget.”