Christopher Gardner remembers being focused.
It was the final golf event of his high school career, the NCISAA state tournament, and Gardner expected to play well. But it turned out that everything was backward, and the Rocky Mount Academy golfer was playing his best when his putter came out of the bag.
“I putted extremely well and that was a good thing because I’m usually not good with my putter,” Gardner said. “I’m typically a good iron player, but this season I haven’t been as good with my irons. So it was nice that I putted well on that first day.”
Gardner carded a 75 during the opening round of the two-day tournament at Whispering Pines. His score placed him in third place and earned him a spot in the final group. Gardner would close the tournament with an 84 after getting out to a tough start, yet his 36-hole score of 159 was sill good for sixth in state.
Gardner’s score also helped the Eagles to a third-place team finish.
His addition of strokes on the second day was a field-wide trend. Of the 46 golfers, just 17 improved on their Day 1 scores.
“It was a bit tougher placement, but I think everyone was feeling the added pressure with it being the last day of the tournament,” Gardner said. “I know for me, being in the final group, I was a little nervous and I started off horribly and couldn’t recover.”
For Gardner, golf started in seventh grade. Soon, it would consume him. He estimated when he turned 16 he started taking it seriously. He played every day for the past two years, either heading to the range or playing at Benvenue Country Club in Rocky Mount.
But a recent summer job working at a marina on the North Carolina coast has required him to dial back his playing frequency. And while he misses the sport, it’s been a welcome break.
“I haven’t played much this summer since I moved out,” Gardner said. “I definitely miss it, and it’s been a complete lifestyle change because I used to play every day, all day. But it’s nice to take a little break and reset.”
In a recent interview, Gardner talks about the differences between practicing on the range and on the course, how he made his college decision, and memories from the state tournament as part of the Telegram’s All-Area series.
Are you someone who works on their game on the course, or do you get most of your work done on the range?
I typically have been a range rat. I hit a lot of balls on the range and when I go back to playing on the course is when I see most of my improvement. But it’s not quite as easy to work on things when you’re playing on the course.
Does the range help hone your swing?
Yeah. It’s been really helpful, especially when I used to get a lot of lessons when I was younger. The range would benefit right away because I could head over there and work on what I was just learning.
Are you still tinkering with your swing?
I am. I’ve always been an extremely technical player, and my dad and coach said that has limited me in some ways. I’ll find a good swing that works and then I’ll change some little things here and there to try and get it perfect.
Will you play golf in college?
I was considering it, but I’m going to the University of South Carolina. They’re like a Top 25 team so I don’t think I’m quite good enough to start there. I’ll just keep it as a hobby, though.
How did you decide on South Carolina?
I wanted to go to an SEC school, and I kind of wanted to get out of state so I and deciding between there and a small school in Tennessee. I ended up choosing South Carolina. My whole life I’ve been going to small schools and I wanted something big and everything that goes along with that.
What comes to mind when you think back on this season?
Probably the state tournament. It was fun spending time with my team. I don’t think I played very well individually, but we played solid as a team. It was a fun time because you appreciate it for being the last time you’ll play together, and it was fun to do it again because we made states the year before.
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Zack Evans, Nash Central
Brittan Joyner, Nash Central
Tristan Wood, Nash Central
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Chance Puckett, Northern Nash
Carson Winstead, Southern Nash
Jubie Moss, Southern Nash
Levy Brantley, Southern Nash
Will Tharin, Rocky Mount Academy
Graham Turnage, Rocky Mount Academy