Starr’s Mill golf relies on young talent after ’17 state sweep

Starr's Mill golf teams after the West Hall Invitational

The opening hole at Braelinn Golf Club in Peachtree City will test any golfer’s mettle. The risk-reward, dogleg-right par-5 forces the player to make a decision right out of the gate, and the wrong one can be costly.

The conservative approach is a 220-yard layup to the opening of the dogleg, leaving nearly 340 yards to the green. The risky line favors a left-to-right ball flight that carries over trees to the right of the fairway about 150 yards off the tee box. A well-struck drive that carries at least 260 yards will be rewarded with a more manageable approach shot between 250 and 220 yards into the guarded green.

For the defending Class AAAAA state champions — Starr’s Mill’s boys and girls teams — experience on this hole has led to a lot of early leads in matches on their home course. The key word: experience. This year, the boys AAAAA champs will be searching for it.

“It was so tight, competition-wise, at the top last year with all those seniors,” said Starr’s Mill coach Burt Waller. “But I also had a freshman who was playing as our No. 2 all year, so our younger kids who are expected to contribute this year did not have a whole lot of tournament time or experience. We played them a good bit during matches during the week, but a 9-hole match is really not the same as an 18- or 36-hole tournament. So they are having to step right in there and play right away.”

The boys shot a 595 (plus-27) in the state tournament last year, edging Ola by 10 strokes. But after losing seven of their best boys players to graduation, the young players will be looked upon to step up this year. In spite of some jitters, it has been so far, so good, according to Waller.

“For their first tournament, they played pretty well,” Waller said of Starr’s Mill’s second-place finish behind Ola in the West Hall Invitational at Chateau Elan. “We went 72-78-78-80, and that was sophomore Luke Phillips, junior Mason Mayfield, sophomore George Langham and freshman Brendan Croft. Those were our four scorers. We finished second to Ola, five strokes behind them. If you had a ranking system, (Ola) is probably the favorite to win it this year. They have everybody back from the runner-up team last year.”

One would think that the defending state champions would not have anything to prove, but if you ask any player wearing a Starr’s Mill sky-blue polo at any given golf tournament this year, they will tell you otherwise.

“We are rebuilding for sure,” said Waller. “But we have plenty of talent to compete. It’s just, can we do it when the pressure is on? You could see the youth and nerves in that first tournament, so I expect us to improve each time out, as we gain experience. So for us, it’s mostly about getting as much experience as we can and see if it will pay off. I think the young players want to keep the legacy left by the previous class intact, so they certainly have something to prove.”


The Starr’s Mill girls team returns three of the four scorers from last year’s state championship team, and they should be a threat again this season. Last season, the Lady Panthers finished with a 474 (plus-42) in the state tournament, 19 strokes ahead of second-place Veterans. This year, the returning scorers possess a wealth of knowledge that will be drawn upon.

“Those returning are juniors Liza Eubanks, Ellie Camp and Mary Hunter,” Waller said. “Add a couple of good freshmen to the mix and we will be a tough out at the state tournament. We have zero seniors on a team that returns its three state scorers, so I expect us to compete for both the Area and the state titles over the next couple of seasons.”

Another advantage for Starr’s Mill’s teams this year goes back to the key word, experience. The Panthers are hosting the Area 2-AAAAA tournaments and the Class AAAAA State Championships this year. The boys will play both tournaments at Planterra Ridge, and the girls will play both tournaments at Braelinn.

The boys Area will be held April 16, and the girls April 17. Both state tournaments will be held May 21-22 at their respective courses. The two courses, separated by a 20-minute golf cart ride, are equally familiar to the Panthers.

Next up on the schedule for the Panthers boys team is the Greenbrier Cup at Bartram Trail Golf Club in Augusta on March 23-24. The Lady Panthers are set to compete in the Titan Classic at Lane Creek Golf Club in Athens on March 17.

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