By JIM McCUE | SportStars
Sierra Foothill League (SFL) golf was hotly contested all season long with the Granite Bay Grizzlies and Del Oro Golden Eagles battling it out for league supremacy and to leave their mark on the local golf scene.
On Wednesday, both schools left a permanent mark on the state golf scene, claiming the first-ever individual and team titles for the Sac Joaquin Section. It also marked the first time that two separate teams from the same league claimed the two titles at the State CIF Boys’ Golf Championship.
Del Oro senior Austin Smotherman carded a 4-under 67 to win the individual state championship at San Gabriel Country Club in Southern California. Granite Bay, led by freshman Jeffrey Inouye-Wong 1-over 72, posted a 374 (+19) to win the team title.
Back in May, Smotherman shot a record-breaking 65 at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton to win the Section Masters Tournament on the same day that the Grizzlies set a Section Masters record 363 for the SJS team championship.
In the NorCal finals, Smotherman dropped to seventh place and Granite Bay qualified as the third-best team from the North. But Wednesday, the Sac-Joaquin Section and the SFL reached new heights with the championship performances turned in by the neighboring rivals.
Since the teams competing in the state tournament teed off first, Smotherman was in the final group of individuals teeing off on the back nine. After getting very little sleep the night before the competition, the SMU-bound senior opened a lot of eyes with his play””making five birdies and just one bogey.
“I was aggressive off the tee all day and missed only two or three fairways and just two greens in regulation,” Smotherman said. “It was a situation where I did not need to make any up-and-downs to save par and I just played my game and played the course.”
The result was six straight pars to start the round followed by back-to-back birdies on No. 16 and 17.
After narrowly missing a third consecutive birdie and lipping out a birdie putt on No. 1 (the 10th hole of his round), Smotherman birdied No. 2 and No. 4 to move to 4-under and to the top of the leaderboard with five holes to play. He would par two more holes before dropping out of the outright lead with a bogey on No. 7, but Smotherman then showed his resolve by bouncing back on the second-to-last hole of the day.
He crushed his drive 310 yards on the par-4, 403-yard No. 8 to set up the biggest wedge shot of his high school career.
And, like he did all year, Smotherman came through in the clutch with an amazing golf shot, sticking his approach shot to less than two feet from the hole. The tap-in birdie moved him back to 4-under and to the outright individual lead with just one hole remaining, the par-3 ninth.
“There were leaderboards on the course and guys were checking their phones for the live scoring, so I heard that I had the outright lead,” Smotherman said of the buzz that started to spread during the final stretch of his round. “I knew, though, that I still had to make par on the last hole before I could find out for sure if I won.”
Smotherman hit his tee shot on No. 9 to within 10 feet and two-putted for par. At that point, Del Oro head coach Hal Steinback and assistant Brian Ash checked with a CIF official to confirm the victory while Austin and his father, Troy, awaited the final verdict.
“It was one of those moments when you look back and don’t really remember it,” Smotherman said of the brief time between sinking his putt and knowing that he won the state championship. “But I will remember this day forever.”
Granite Bay had been led by Alex Gibbs and Brandon Baumgarten most of the season, but Inouye-Wong came up with the Grizzlies’ low round to vault Granite Bay to the top of the team leaderboard despite finishing behind Foothill-Pleasanton and Stevenson-Monterey in the NorCal final. Baumgarten (+2), Gibbs (+5), Chuck Pedone (+3), and Bryan Wise (+8) accounted for the title-winning 374.
“I don’t know if it’s ever been done before,” Smotherman said of the league sweep of the state golf titles, “but it certainly sets the bar high for next year.”
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