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Thursday, July 30, 2020

2020 Highlands Bluebirds Boys Golf Preview

Bluebirds Loaded with Experience

Highlands returns three golfers with at least two years of experience playing in region tournaments. Seniors Justin Gabbard (left) and Luke Muller (middle) have golfed in four and sophomore Joel Craft (right) has golfed in two. Gabbard and Muller qualified for state last year with Gabbard finishing tied for 22nd. (Img: Provided)

By G. Michael Graham

The top three is not a question mark for the Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team entering the season.

Seniors Justin Gabbard and Luke Muller have golfed in the last four region tournaments and three straight state tournaments. Sophomore Joel Craft has golfed in the last two region tournaments.

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The trio helped the Bluebirds win the 8th Region crown and finish eighth in the state tournament in 2018. Gabbard shot a 153 in the state tournament in Bowling Green last year to finish tied for 22nd individually.

The Bluebirds hope to find someone to golf more consistently after that, especially at the fourth spot. The top four scores out of five golfers determine region championships. The 8th Region Tournament takes place on Sept. 28 at Eagle Country Club in Dry Ridge.

But three golfers came out after not playing last year. They are senior Isaiah Lampkin, juniors Jack Schneider and Charlie Gorman.

"Joel, Luke and Justin did a great job of getting kids up to the golf course (Highlands Country Club) and getting them to play," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "Joel and Luke keep seeing (Jack and Charlie) all the time, got them out on the golf course and got them playing. Charlie and Jack played a lot of golf and enjoyed it. Going into our first tournament, they're both in our top five. Justin bumps into Isaiah at the driving range, talked to him and got Isaiah to come out - another kid that's in the mix that could be in that top five for tournaments at the end of the year."

When the Bluebirds won the region tournament two years ago with a team score of 293, Craft shot an 80 in the fourth spot. Gabbard shot 70 with Muller shooting 71 and 2019 Highlands graduate Ryan Leigh firing a 72.

"The tournaments are a lot of fun. Getting to go to (state at) Bowling and staying at (the Lodge at) Old Stone, those are the things you're going to look back on when you're out of college and working," Craft said. "That's probably been my biggest motivation."

Highlands finished third in the region last year with a 322 score. Grant County won region shooting a 311 and Henry County took second at 321. Only the region champion advances to the state tournament unlike previous years such as 2017 when the Bluebirds advanced to state as a team after finishing runner-up in the 8th Region behind Grant County.

The Bluebirds have 10 golfers in the varsity rotation. Freshman Ryan Toole and eighth grader Hank Shick golfed in the region tournament last year.

"I'm excited about this group," Richey said. "This is the most depth that we've had in my five years. It will be real competitive for the spots to complete the team that will compete in region. We'll be taking two teams to a lot of tournaments so I'll have a lot of scores and things to look at trying to figure out who will give us that best combination at the end of the year to win the region. This is probably the most experienced team that I've had. I'm really happy with the amount of tournament experience we have this year."

A senior and a middle schooler rounds out the rotation. They are senior Mac Valentine and eighth grader Nate Surrey.

Highlands has not had any practices in the last couple weeks because of Coronavirus 2019 concerns. But Richey has seen the golfers consistently up at the course throughout the summer. The Bluebirds open the season with 10 tournaments.

"Since we're not in school, you play tournaments every day," Richey said. "My philosophy was, other than the end (of the season), this was the most important time. If something were to happen now, you would miss 60 percent of the season in a two-week time frame so I wanted to keep them away from each other and tell them to be smart. We have them in pods and things when we do get together. They can play on their own and get ready for the season."

One thing golfers are not allowed to do this year is remove flag sticks. A third violation equals a disqualification from the match.

Golfers play 18 holes in tournaments in tournaments and nine in dual matches. Highlands plays in 18 tournaments and two matches this year.

"Most of the time, I use the matches for the younger kids to get them experience," Richey said. "But this year, we're playing Covington Catholic and Beechwood for Senior Night. We'll have plenty of opportunities to get a lot of kids a lot of experience."

The season starts Friday for Highlands in the Bullitt East Invitational at the Tanglewood Golf Club in Taylorsville. Highlands won the tournament two years ago.

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