HENDERSON, Tenn. – Parents, players, and coaches followed each other in a remarkable procession of six golf carts, various shades of red, and the strong smell of gasoline. It was Friday afternoon, and Union’s golf team was finishing up a co-ed match play event against Freed-Hardeman, trailing 14.5 to 12.5.
Walking in front of this procession was Union freshman Delaney Sain.
After two long days in the sun, Sain marched up to the 17th green at Chickasaw Golf Club, exuding a confidence that brings fresh life to the Union golf community.
Sain was leading Emily Whitnell by one hole. Earlier, Whitnell had a three-hole lead over Sain, but the Lady Bulldog fought back, heeding the frequently shouted advice of Head Coach Clay Mallard to “keep grindin’.”
At the par-3 17th, Whitnell teed off first, slightly pulling her shot and missing off the back-left of the green. Sain went for the aggressive shot, and, successfully clearing the water hazard, hit a dart within 15 feet of the pin.
Driving the cart at the back of the crowd was one of Union’s volunteer assistant coaches, Don Morris. While he waited for Sain to putt, Morris elaborated on why he loves coaching, saying, “It helps me stay young and active.”
“I think with the condition these young folks are in physically and the equipment that changes over the years, some of these kids can just hit it a mile,” Morris said.
On the green, Whitnell finished with a bogey, and Sain with par, putting Sain up two with one to play.
Sain’s round served as the final match of the week, capping off the two days of match play, and making the final score 14.5 to 13.5.
“It’s a team event,” Mallard said. “It’s not just a men’s or women’s tournament. It’s more about the schools and bringing the teams together, and putting players in intense situations to get them back into competitive mode – college golf mode – ready to play. It’s a great start to the season.”
Though Union lost, they made a noteworthy comeback attempt.
The event began Thursday morning with “fourball” matchups, a format in which four players from two teams play four separate balls, counting the lower score from each partnership for each hole.
Freed-Hardeman dominated this round, winning four of the six matches, and finishing all-square in the remaining two, for a 5 to 1 lead.
Thursday afternoon, the teams faced off in alternate shot play. Freed-Hardeman once again won four of six, while Union won one and there was one all-square finish. Union’s lone victors were Sam Ross and Cal Templeton, who defeated Joshua Mayo and Colby Shelton with a score of 7 & 6.
Also on Thursday, four men’s golfers played individual matches, and Union won both head-to-head matchups. In the morning, Ross defeated Shelton with a final of 4 & 3, and in the afternoon, River Scoggins defeated Peyton Hinson with a final of 2 Up.
Freed-Hardeman led 9.5 to 4.5 after Thursday.
Friday morning, the teams returned to play only individual matches. Including Sain’s win over Whitnell, Union won eight of 14. The remaining seven wins came from Jordan Botwinick, Kyle Soulyrette, Ross, Scoggins, McKenna Montgomery, Alyssa Burnett, and Ashley McCormick. Templeton and Reagan Oliver finished their individual matches all-square.
“It was good to see us bounce back and play better today,” Mallard said. “We played better overall as a men’s and women’s team, but this format will really expose your game and show you what you need to work on, so I think everybody is going to walk away from here knowing exactly what they need to go work on.”
Mallard said the team as whole needs to focus on “hitting the right club off the tee – not just driver, but hitting the right club off the tee – and making sure that it’s in play.”
“We’re spraying it like a water hose right now,” Mallard said.
Mallard holds his team to a high standard, and recognizes the stress of 54 holes of golf.
“I push work ethic and making sure that they’re managing their time well,” Mallard said. “[I value] making sure they’re taking care of themselves as a whole – not just golf, but spiritually, health-wise, book-wise… and not just removing parts of their life to focus on strictly golf or strictly school, but to uphold a healthy life.”
Mallard showed the balance he values by laughing with the team after the stress wore off, zipping them around on his cart to go support others who were still finishing.
That is how the procession to hole 17 began – with Mallard driving around players, letting college athletes enjoy community and creating memories with them on the course – and that will last beyond a Friday afternoon in September.