Thornton ties for low medalist honors at state, leads PCHS golf to second place finish 5-25-16

(Front, l-r) Matt Simmons, Zac Thornton, John Ben James, Jake Harvard; (back, l-r) Clay Denison, Ty Metts, Emmett James and coach Stuart Stipe.

For the second year in a row, the Pierce County Bears’ golf team can lay claim as to having the top Class AAA public school program in the state.

Pierce can also lay claim to having an individual state champion with the career-best four-under-par 68 performance of Zac Thornton. He tied for medalist honors with Westminister’s Keller Harper.

“Zac got into a zone,” said head coach Stuart Stipe. “He’s not intimidated by the players he is paired with during tournaments. Zac does a great job with course management and executing a game plan. I am proud of him.”

Westminister, a private school, was six shots better than PCHS when the final putt was made during the Monday, May 16, tournament at Gordon Lakes Golf Club at Ft. Gordon military base outside of Augusta. The Wildcats shot a 298 team score to the Bears’ 304 to capture the 13-team state tournament.

“I really thought 300 was the score to win,” said head coach Stuart Stipe. “The wind picked up before we teed off and I changed my score to 305. I knew it was going to be tight with four teams having a realistic chance at winning the title and we were one of the four. We just came up short which brings in the conversation of playing against the private schools.”

PCHS, which won titles in 1988-89 and 2009, finished second to Blessed Trinity a year ago in Roswell on the Titans’ home course (Brookfield Country Club) losing by five shots, 299-304.

“That’s two years in a row we have been the public school champion and not the state champion,” Stipe said. “I just don’t think that it is fair that we have to compete against schools that can play by different rules. We do things the right way. I don’t understand how one classification (Class A) can have private/public champions and it’s not that way in every other class.”

The rest of the field included Oconee County (308), Blessed Trinity (316), Hart County (319), Coahulla Creek (340), East Jackson (342), Franklin County (342), Westside-Augusta (352), Jackson County (358), Calhoun (360), Haralson County (373), and Brantley County (386).

Individually, John Ben James followed Thornton’s lead with a round of 75 tying for sixth. Ty Metts posted a 79 to tie for 17th. Jake Harvard’s round of 82 tied for 25th. Emmett James posted an 86 tying for 40th. Kole Kicklighter posted a 94 to tie for 65th in the 88-player field.

“This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after losing six golfers to graduation with three going on to play collegiately,” said Stipe. “I was not sure what to expect, but this group exceeded my expectations. Our tradition does not allow us to rebuild. We pride ourselves on that and expect to win every year.

“This group set a goal to win a state title and worked hard to obtain that goal. I’m disappointed for them that their hard work did not end with a state championship, though. I am proud of what they accomplished and I am honored to be their head coach.

“I would like to give a big thanks to our support group. From the community and Lakeveiew Golf Club to the parents to our administration, they make this possible.”

Stipe said a team banquet has been scheduled for Monday, May 30. No time or place had been confirmed.