With a two-shot cushion largely crafted by a brilliant opening-round 6-under 66, Hilton Head Christian Academy golfer Trace Crowe was more than pleased to see the wind up and the tees back for Sunday's final round of the Golf Etc. High School Invitational at the Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run.
Intent on defending his 36-hole lead by hitting fairways and greens, the talented junior did exactly that en route to shooting an even-par 72 that was good enough to earn him the individual title against a strong field of more than 80 high school golfers with a final total of 6-under 210.
Displaying remarkable consistency that belied just how difficult the Jack Nicklaus-designed course was playing on Sunday, Crowe shot 35-37 to ultimately best Beaufort High School's Josh Fickes and Gilbert High School standout Caleb Proveaux by two shots.
"To me this is one of the best high school events in the state, so winning it means a lot," Crowe said. "I just stuck to my game plan today just like I did on Saturday. Opening with the 66 on Friday really helped and then I just tried to play smart from that point on."
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That impressive performance notwithstanding, Crowe was far more pleased with the Christian Academy's near-dominant defense of its 2013 team title. The Eagles posted a three-day score of 911, easily outpacing Boiling Springs who finished at 925 and A.C. Flora who posted a 932. Hilton Head High School finished second among the local teams with a 947, followed by Beaufort (966) and Bluffton (970).
"I'm so proud of the way the team played this week," Crowe said. "Everyone really finished strong today. That definitely means more to me than winning the individual title."
Despite finishing in that tie for second, Beaufort's Fickes was the model of consistency at Golden Bear, shooting consecutive 2-under 70s in the first two rounds and then closing with an even-par 72 on Sunday.
In fact, the senior, who will play golf at Clemson next fall, was 2 under and just outside the lead through 14 holes before a three-putt par on No. 15 stunted his momentum.
Fickes then followed with bogeys on 17 and 18 to fall out of contention.
"You just have to focus on every shot because the course doesn't let up on you," Fickes said. "I thought I played well most of the tournament; I just didn't finish real well. It kind of crept in on the 15th hole that I had a chance to win and then I three-putted for par and that kind of busted my bubble."
Gilbert's Proveaux overcame a difficult start that featured a double bogey and a bogey on his fourth and fifth holes respectively to shoot a final-round 71 after entering the day three shots off of Crowe's pace. Still, the sophomore managed to counter those struggles with six birdies on the day, and capped his final round with a clutch chip-in for eagle on the par-5 ninth.
"At the start I wasn't hitting it too good, but I got it figured out on the back nine," Proveaux said. "Considering this is a three-day tournament it's definitely one of the best high school tournaments for me. Making as many birdies as I did this week--I had 16 birdies and an eagle--gives me a lot of confidence moving forward this year."
Hilton Head Island High School's Andrew Orischak carded a 72 of his own to finish in a tie for fifth place at 1-over par, three shots behind Riverside's Jonathan Hardee who entered the final round just two shots behind Crowe but slipped with a final-round 74.
Despite the challenge Golden Bear presented, the round of the day was turned in by Boiling Springs eighth grader Trent Phillips, who fired a 69 to ultimately finish in a tie for fifth alongside Orischak after starting the day at 4-over par.
The day, however, belonged to Crowe, who showed significant resolve, maturity and talent on a difficult course and with a strong group of challengers chasing him along the final 18 holes.
"You have to play smart out here," Crowe said minutes after securing the victory. "This place is tight. I'll take par out here anytime. I missed a few putts here and there, but par here is a good score."
Actually on Sunday, par was more than good enough for a championship score.