May 25, 2001
High school golf is a team sport.
Cape Henlopen High School’s Vikings proved the point with their first-place finish in this year’s Henlopen Conference Championship, held at Baywood Greens on May 22.
As in the regular season, the team score is combined from the best four scores of the six players. The Viking total of 321 edged their arch rivals from Dover High by only three strokes.
Coach Jerry Dorneman said a “bittersweet dilemma” faced Mark Johnson and Tyler Witman, who were co-medalists with a pair of 76s. The two Cape players then competed in a playoff to determine the individual winner. After both parring the first hole, the two boys both drove into the water on the second hole. Witman recovered for a bogey, Johnson missed his bogey try, and the tournament ended.
Dorneman said the situation felt a little awkward, but he also agreed that having two Cape players in a playoff for first place was a nice problem to have.
Christian Donovan, who played in the fifth or sixth spots in most regular season matches, came through for the Vikings with a fine 84, third best on the team. J.J. Oakley’s 85 completed the Cape scoring. Jason Ritthaler shot a 90, while Adam Talley struggled to a 95.
Each of Donovan’s teammates whom I interviewed praised the senior’s contribution to the team effort. Witman said, “I was really glad to see him play well.” Johnon said, “If you’re going to print anything I said, please give the credit to Christian.” Oakley simply said, “Christian really stepped up for us.”
A “very happy” Witman admitted that he shot the ball well himself, but with his usual dose of self-criticism also noted that he had 5 three-putts. In addition, the golf course set-up impressed the nationally-recognized junior golfer. “They moved the tees back to the [longer] gold tees at some of the spots. They made you have to hit it long and straight. It tested you more.”
Johnson said he played conservatively. “On the par 5s, for example, I hit my 2-iron off the tee, and then laid up to about 75 yards for a sand wedge to the green. I had chances for birdies, but I made solid pars on them instead. It beat trying to hit the green in two over a water hazard.”
Johnson birdied the second and twelfth holes, and doubled 17 with a buried bunker shot. His most impressive bogey came on the fourteenth hole, where he drove into the water on his first tee shot, but was forced to re-tee instead of taking relief closer to the hole. “On that one, I made a 5 foot putt that broke a foot. The greens had a lot of slope, but they held well and putted well, I thought.”
Donovan said Baywood Greens was the “best course I’ve ever seen. I played it for the first time the Thursday before the tournament, and it was beautiful.”
Donovan said he played the first six holes fairly well, but then finished the front nine in 45 with a double, triple, and bogey. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, boy,’ but after another bogey on 10 I parred the next five holes. After bogeys on 16 and 17, I parred 18.” The 39 on the back nine completed his round, and put a smile on his coach’s face.
Oakley said he thought he’d lost the championship for the team as he finished his round, “because I hadn’t played very well. I was real glad to hear about Chris.”
Oakley’s approach shots caused him trouble much of the day. “I only hit 7 greens [in regulation]. I chipped fairly well, but then had trouble making the 10 foot and shorter putts that I shouldn’t have missed.”
Dorneman praised the work of Brian Barrows, the head pro at Baywood Greens and a member of the last Viking squad to win the Henlopen Conference Championship in 1987. “The course was great, and the staff was really helpful.”
The two-day, 36-hole state championship will be at DuPont Country Club on May 29-30. The Vikings will be favored, but it will take another good team effort to win.