Prep golf: Kinker, Cabell Midland ready to attack wide-open field at State Tournament
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Wheeling Park High School golf team, like so many other Class AAA programs in recent years, appeared destined to dominate the State Tournament for multiple years.
How quickly things change.
The Patriots are now among a handful of teams that can win the championship when the 36-hole season finale unfolds Tuesday at Oglebay Resort's Robert Trent Jones Course in Wheeling.
Wheeling Park won the crown in 2010 and 2011 before University swooped in and won the big-school championship last season on the Patriots' home course. Hurricane won three straight (2007-09) just after Parkersburg South (2005-06) and John Marshall (2003-04) were back-to-back winners.
The Hawks failed to qualify for next week's tournament, and South beat Wheeling Park in the Region 1 championships at Parkersburg Country Club.
"It's wide open this year," Wheeling Park Coach Don Headley said. "It's whoever plays well on those two days. My guys know that, South knows that, they all know that."
So does Cabell Midland senior Seth Kinker.
The two-sport All-State player in baseball and golf shot a 154 in last year's State Tournament to finish in a three-way tie with teammate Jacob Beahrs and Winfield's Chris Williams.
This year, he's one of only three returning State Tournament qualifiers - the others are Wheeling Park's Cole Hand and University's Eric Wirth - to finish in the top eight last year and earn All-State.
"I was just talking about that with Beahrs," Kinker said.
"You don't have University, you don't have GW and, of course, us and Huntington had the two lowest regional scorers. Parkersburg South and Washington usually play good rounds up there and Wheeling Park, well, it's on their home course.
"I definitely think it's wide open. We have a great chance. You better believe it."
The Knights finished third last year and have Kinker and Mark Wilcox playing in their third State Tournament.
The Highlanders, who shot a 231 in the regional, return two players - Thomas Frazier and Fisher Cross - who played in last year's State Tournament.
Ryan Mumaw and Ryan Fleming are Washington's top two and returning to State Tournament, as well as Elkins' Braden Hammond and Kollin Hopwood - who represented the Tigers in 2012 when the team didn't qualify.
In Region 1, Parkersburg South came out on top and has Alex Schreckengost returning to compete in the State Tournament. Wheeling Park, which finished second in Region 1, returns 2012 medalist Cole Hand.
Kinker - who finished tied for 13th in 2011 and tied for eighth last year - said he has grown as a golfer and will play smarter next week.
"My golf game is the best it's ever been," Kinker said. "I don't hit as many drivers. I hit it a long way with a 2-iron stinger and that course isn't long at all."
One of the keys, Kinker acknowledges, is keeping the ball in the fairway and knowing when to use your driver - another lesson he learned.
"I'll use my driver on 14 and 3," he said. "I didn't use it on too many last year, either. I wasn't as experienced last year, I still use the hybrid and worked on my ball striking over the last year and a half, made me switch to irons. I don't miss as much."
His start in the 2012 tourney doomed his chances at overall medalist, although he shot a respectable 77 in each round.
"Driver-wise, I was terrible through the first three or four holes," he said.
Kinker will begin on the No. 12 hole Tuesday with Wheeling Park's Hand, Elkins' Hammond and Shady Spring's Drew Green.
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HURRICANE HAS qualified another individual to the State Tournament, marking the third time that's happened since the Redskins won three consecutive titles (2007-09).
Senior Andrew Brooks is the third straight senior to earn an individual berth to state, following John Mangus (2011) and Alex Hambel (2012). Hurricane was not represented at the 2010 State Tournament.