By Cam Huffman
Register-Herald Sports Editor
Earlier this season, Oak Hill High School’s Craig Buchanan shot a 31 on the first nine holes at his home course of White Oak Country Club.
Because of the format of the match, he had to stop there. He picked up an individual victory, but he was left wondering what his score might have been over 18 holes.
He didn’t have to ask that question Monday. The Red Devil junior shot a 64 at the Class AAA Region 3 Tournament at the Lewisburg Elks Country Club, finishing six strokes ahead of the closest competitor to take overall medalist honors and earn a trip to the Class AAA state tournament Oct. 2-3 at the Speidel Golf Course at Oglebay Park in Wheeling.
“I’ve played really good all year but just never scored this well,” said Buchanan, admitting that even-par was his goal coming into the round. “Off the tee went well. I hit every fairway, and then I putted really good. Every shot I hit was online.”
Starting on hole No. 10, Buchanan’s round really picked up steam on No. 16, when his drive landed about 130 yards out on the course’s shortest par 5 and he hit his approach within three feet. He buried the putt for an eagle before repeating the feat on No. 17.
There, he hit his drive to about 200 yards out and again put his approach within three feet, this time using a 4-hybrid, before sinking the putt. He finished the back nine with a 4-under-par 32.
“I knew then that I had a chance,” said Buchanan. “I had some pressure on me, but I think I handled it pretty well.”
He finished the front nine with a 2-under-par 32 and signed for a 6-under, the only red number of the day.
The score was especially impressive on a day that started with frigid temperatures around 10:30 a.m. and saw all but two of the 36 golfers finish the day above par. Aside from a bogey on the final hole, No. 9, Buchanan’s round was almost flawless.
“I’ve never seen that in a tournament out here,” said Greenbrier East freshman Madison Erskine, who also qualified for the state tournament as an individual, shooting a 77. Erskine’s score was actually eighth-best overall, but the six players between Buchanan and Erskine all qualified as part of the team competition, allowing Erskine to take the second individual spot out of the region. “That’s pretty low, especially for high school.”
“He’s capable of going low, but it’s awesome to do it here,” agreed Oak Hill head coach Randal Rosiek. “I’m really proud of him and looking forward to states.
“He’s calm and collected. He’s always had the physical game, but he’s getting the mental game down now. That makes him tough to beat.”
In the team event, nobody came close to George Washington, which captured the title with a 212. All four Patriot golfers finished in the top 5 individually, led by Austin Florence’s 70. Will Evans and Kris Webster shot 71s, and Drew Call rebounded with six birdies on the back nine for a 75, although only the top three scores counted in the team tally. The Patriots’ team score was just 2-over-par. George Washington finished third in Class AAA a year ago and has its sights set on a team title this time around.
The real battle in Class AAA Monday was for the second and final team spot, a fight that came down to Shady Spring and Oak Hill. Paced by Buchanan’s 64, the Red Devils made a run at a trip to Wheeling, but the Tigers put three of their four golfers in the top 10 to make up the difference. Drew Green’s 75 was the low round for Shady, followed by Landon Perry (76) and Ryan Albaugh (78). The Tigers’ 229 team total was two shots better than Oak Hill.
Shady, which finished fourth in Class AA last year, will be back in Wheeling in its first year as a Class AAA member.
At the same time the Class AAA golfers were battling it out on the Lewisburg course, Richwood was locking up its first Class A Region 3 title since 1991.
The Lumberjacks’ team total of 257 didn’t quite have the same buzz as what George Washington was able to accomplish, but it was still 10 shots better than second-place Greenbrier West and more than enough to make head coach David Hicks smile with pride.
“It’s been a long time,” said the host coach, who is retired from teaching but wasn’t ready to step away from the golf team. “We’ve gone to the state tournament several times as individuals and a couple times as second place, but this is special.