By Nick Denning
The Cape Fear men’s golf team is two months into the 2017-18 season. Although they are young, with eight freshmen and only one sophomore, head coach Rick Stewart likes what he’s seen out of his players so far. The Sea Devils have finished second in two of their first four tournaments, and haven’t finished lower than fifth. Playing in NJCAA District 4, one of the most competitive districts in the nation, the team faces off against programs with a history of success that have produced professional golfers.
In their first tournament, Cape Fear finished 3rd in the Cutter Creek Invitational, shooting a 6-under 282 in two rounds. Considering it was the first tournament for many of them, Coach Stewart was impressed in the way his young team competed against NCAA Division II schools.
“For the kids to step up in their first tournament and do that, it’s great,” said coach Stewart. While he liked their effort, the team struggled in Round 2 after shooting well in Round 1. Coach Stewart states the 2nd round performance came as a result of not putting the previous round behind them.
“Players have to move on no matter what they score on the previous hole [or round].” He says his team wanted to repeat their strong performance on the second day, when it would have been better to treat each round separately. After struggling in Round 2, he joked with his players, telling them they, “folded like a dinner napkin.” While Round 2 didn’t go as well as they hoped, it was a good teaching moment.
Remaining focused is important, according to Coach Stewart. Five players participate in each tournament, and the top four scores are counted. It creates little room for error. “If they don’t focus and each one drops a shot or two, that’s the difference between first and eighth.”
While overall team scores determine the winner, individual players have stepped up in various tournaments. Of the entire roster, coach Stewart points to freshman Brantley Moore as his strongest player so far this season. A native of Wilmington, Moore has one Top 10 finish and four Top 20 finishes this season. He finished tied for 6th in the Cutter Creek Invitational, shooting 73 in both rounds, then finished 14th in the Don Scalf Invitational, 14th in the NJCAA District 4 Preview in early October, and then tied for 11th in the Walter State Fall Classic.
Coach Stewart calls him “reliable,” and says the best part of Moore’s game is his ability to hit from the tee. “[He has] good distance, [he is]very accurate, and he keeps the ball in front of him.”
Another standout has been freshman Tanner Norris. In the Cutter Creek Invitational, he finished tied for 1st, shooting 73 in Round 1 and 69 in Round 2. Later in the month, he finished tied for 10th in the Don Scalf Invitational, shooting 71 and 72 in two rounds. So far, Norris has two Top 10 finishes, along with three Top 20 finishes.
When describing Norris’ game, one word comes to mind for Coach Stewart. “Norris is a natural. His game is just natural.” He states the freshman from Morehead City, NC has never had formal training, and that he has a good feel for the game. His natural ability, however, is both a blessing and slight handicap.
“He’s finding out he’s not the only one who can post [good scores].”
However, Stewart says that Norris can become a great player when he can improve and apply the technical and mental parts of the game. Beyond Norris and Moore, sophomore Andrew Cheek has finished in the Top 20 three times, while freshmen Ryan Graybar, Thomas Hill, and Justin Morgan each have one Top 20 finish.
Coach Stewart has been impressed with the work ethic of Morgan. He says he is a great example of, “a player really, really putting the time in, [and having]their mind [in the right place].” He believes these attributes mean Morgan will develop into a great player.