Rollins, Edel ready to put Panther golf on the map
By LAUREN JETTE
When the state golf tournament begins Monday, it will be one of the few athletic frontiers Liberty Hill hasn’t staked a claim on in recent years.
This year’s Panther golf team is looking to change that after winning second place at the regional tournament in Corpus Christi last week.
Led by senior James Rollins and junior Nico Edel, along with freshmen Parker McCurdy, Donnie Harper and Logan Barker, the Panthers will compete at the state tournament at the Onion Creek Golf Course in Austin Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s pretty great. It’s been a long time since a team has moved on,” Edel said.
Almost 30 years, to be exact.
The last boys golf team to advance to state was in 1988, and included Clay Cole, Paul Shirey, Korbin Davis and Dennis Rollins, James’s father.
“That was pretty cool for that to happen, the last year I get to play on the team and then it was his last year also,” James said.
Rollins won the regional tournament by sinking an 8-foot put on the first hole of a four-man playoff, while the team total was only 9 shots behind regional champion Fredericksburg at Gabe Lozano Golf Course.
“The first day, the toughest part was the wind,” Edel said. “It was like, 40-45 mile an hour wind.”
“That second day was nice until the back nine and then the wind started blowing on us again and it started to rain on us too,” Rollins added.
The conditions weren’t enough to deter the team, and the overnight trip actually allowed the players to come together as a team, despite the age gap.
“We finally played like a team. We finally put a good score together as a team,” Rollins said. “It seemed like we actually talked to each other. Normally, (the freshmen) would hang out by themselves and stuff, and we all went into one hotel room and hung out.”
“We bonded a lot better,” Edel added. “It was kind of tough because James and I have played together since I was in seventh grade and he was in eighth and the others are freshmen.”
“We didn’t know them until this year,” Rollins said. “Now we’ve come together and we know each other and talk. We feel we need to play for each other now, not just ourselves. This is the first time we’ve had a chance, so you can’t let your other teammates down,” Edel finished.
Both Rollins and Edel have been around golf in some form for much of their lives, and share a similar path of becoming more serious about the sport after junior high.
“I’ve had golf clubs ever since I was little because my dad and my grandpa played, but I didn’t start playing golf until maybe… I played in junior high but it was only during the school time, I didn’t practice outside of school or anything,” Rollins explained.
“Right before freshman year, I got really in to it and stopped playing baseball and basketball and really started focusing on golf because I figured that would be the best opportunity to go to college. I started loving it and started playing it all the time.”
“I’m kind of the same way,” Edel said.
“I’ve been around golf my whole life because my dad has a golf club manufacturing company (Edel Golf), so I’ve always been around that golf club-making side of it. I always played during the season in junior high, but never played outside that.
“Then freshman year, I played soccer and golf and I played a little more soccer than golf and it showed because I didn’t break 90 until district my freshman year. So I said I didn’t want to do that again, so I quit soccer and the summer going into my sophomore year, I really took golf more seriously and practiced every day and been doing it ever since.”
The two practice together every day, “as weather permits”, and keep rounds competitive.
“We play different games, whatever we can come up with to keep the competition between us,” Edel said.
The two will look the use their extensive golf knowledge and course knowledge to try and bring a team medal back to Liberty Hill.
“We definitely probably have more course knowledge seeing as how we’re only 30-45 minutes away from the course,” Edel said.
“We’ve played it a few times in tournaments and outside of that too,” Rollins added. “We’ll know which holes you have opportunities on, where you’re not playing the greatest, but you can think ahead and go, oh these holes, I can still get all those scores back.”
Other than Fredericksburg, district opponent Salado also advanced out of the Region IV tournament, and will join Carthage, Madisonville, Huffman Hargrave, Monahans, Seminole, Decatur, Argyle, Texarkana Pleasant Grove and Canton in the Class 4A hunt.
The goal Rollins and Edel have in mind is getting Liberty Hill in the top ten.
“Top ten would be nice, but I want to do it as a team, too. I think we might have a chance. Just have to play some golf and see what happens,” Rollins said.
“We know the two other people from our region because we played against them. You can look at the scores. Some from the other regions are going to be tough, but we might have a chance,” Edel said. “They are shooting the same scores as Fredericksburg, and that’s who won our region. We were only 9 shots behind them.”
While the stage will be bigger than they are used to, Rollins and Edel are excited to hit the course and test their skills against some of the best golfers in the state. They are also prepared to offer some guidance to the other younger members of their team.
“They showed up and regionals and did what they had to. They are all pretty excited about (state),” Rollins said.
“We’re all excited, it’s pretty big,” Edel said. “I’m sure nerves might get to them a little bit, but you just gotta talk to them and calm them down and just say, go play your game. Play golf. That’s what it comes down to.”
On the girls side, Mckenzy Turner will be competing at the state tournament as an individual, also at Onion Creek Golf Course Monday and Tuesday.