East Marlborough >> The nine members of the defending PIAA Class 3A state champion Unionville golf team who were feted at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Monday won’t forget that trip anytime soon.
“It was really cool to have the Speaker of the House announce us, and then to have [Pa. House of Representatives member] Eric Roe talking about our team’s success last fall,” said Unionville co-captain Richie Kline.
“There must have been a couple of hundred people in the audience – about 100 House members, and maybe 50-100 spectators,” said Unionville co-captain Connor Bennink. “Before we were introduced in the House, we took a tour of the Capitol and had lunch there.”
On the way home, the nine Unionville golfers that traveled to Harrisburg – Bennink, Kline, senior Will Bennink, senior David Starnes, senior Chris Skean, junior Jack Cooley, junior Jon Passarello, sophomore Roy Anderson and senior Wes Saunders -held their weekly practice session at Royal Manchester Golf Links in northern York County, accompanied by coach Jimmy O’Rourke.
There could be another celebration on the way. With nine members from last year’s state championship squad on this fall’s Unionville golf team, the Indians (15-0 at the end of the regular season Sept. 27) have a good chance to repeat their feat as PIAA team champions.
“We have a lot of golfers who can shoot par, or under,” said Unionville head coach Jimmy O’Rourke. “We have five [top] players who average around par, and the next three or four [players] average only a stroke or two over par.”
The top five Unionville golfers this fall have been seniors – the Bennink twins (Connor and Will), Kline, Starnes and Skean.
Connor Bennink, the Daily Local News 2017 All-Area Boys Golfer of the Year, was the only Ches-Mont golfer to make it to the PIAA individual state tournament last fall, and he shot 73-73-146 to finish tied for fifth.
“Connor is very consistent,” said O’Rourke. “You can probably count on one hand the number of ball he’s lost this season. He hits the ball far, too, and is very even-tempered.”
The other co-captain, Kline, was a first team Daily Local News All-Area golfer last fall, finishing strong at the District 1 Championships to become one of only two Ches-Mont golfers to advance to Regionals (Connor Bennink was the other).
“Richie is probably the most physically gifted golfer we have, he hits the ball the farthest,” said O’Rourke. “His touch is great, too – last year, he chipped in from off the green [on a closing hole at Districts] to advance to Regionals.”
Connor’s twin brother Will, also has been a top scorer for Unionville this fall. In team tryouts at Kennett Square Golf & Country Club (Unionville’s home course), he fired a 64.
“It’s funny, Will is left-handed and Connor is right-handed,” noted O’Rourke. “Will has been one of our top scorers this fall, hits it long, and has a good short game too.”
Starnes, who received Daily Local News All-Area honorable mention last fall, has rebounded from a back injury to become one of Unionville’s top scorers this fall. A long hitter, he recently shot 31 for nine holes at Glen Mills.
Skean, who like Starnes received DLN All-Area honorable mention in 2017, also is in Unionville’s top scoring quintet this fall.
“Chris has a nice compact swing, like Nick Price,” said O’Rourke. “When his short game is on, it’s lights out.”
Adding depth to Unionville’s crew of talented golfers is Cooley, Passarello, Anderson and Saunders.
“Jack keeps the ball low, which is good at a course like Wyncote, and is one of our quietest golfers, sort of like a Retief Goossen type,” said O’Rourke. “Jon is one of our best overall athletes – he plays [varsity] basketball in the winter – and has a controlled swing. Roy is a promising lefthander who gets great distance for his size, and I look for him to develop more as he grows. Wes has the most fun of any of our golfers, he’s the president of Student Council and I think he’ll be the mayor of a town someday [laughs].”
One of the Indians’ highlights this fall was the Central Dauphin Golf Invitational, in which Unionville finished first. Kline shot two-under-par and eagled two par 5s.
Kline and Connor Bennink, the two co-captains, try to provide low-key guidance for their teammates as the Indians focus on another successful post-season.
“I try to help out in building up some of our younger players’ confidence,” said Kline. “Sometimes, one of our golfers might be struggling on the driving range before the round and need someone to talk to, to settle them down a little.”
O’Rourke credits the junior golf programs at Kennett Square Golf & Country Club (Unionville’s home course) and Radley Run with developing good future talent for Unionville. He also credits some of the standout PGA professionals that have taught lessons to his players.
“A lot of our guys have been in the junior programs at those two clubs, and this has been really helpful to our team,” said O’Rourke. “The golfers that come out of those programs are pretty advanced by the time they come [to Unionville], they’re pretty familiar with the Rules of Golf.”
While the Unionville squad travels to many different local golf courses for their high school rounds, the Indians like their home course, Kennett Square Golf & Country Club.
“I like Kennett, it’s a strategic course,” said Kline. “You can’t just pound driver off the tee, you have to hit it to the right spot, then you have to place your approach in the correct section of the green so you don’t have an impossible putt.”
Both Kline and Connor Bennink said their favorite course (that they’ve played) is Galloway National, which they played for the first time shortly after helping Unionville win the 2017 PIAA 3A team title.
“The view of the ocean and the bay are great, and it’s in perfect condition,” said Bennink.
“It’s very straightforward, all the challenges are right out in front of you, and it’s visually appealing,” added Kline.
One course that brings back fond memories for both Kline and Bennink is Heritage Hills, where they shot 74 and 73, respectively, to help bring home the PIAA Class 3A team title to Unionville.
“That day was really cool,” said Kline, “After I finished, Nick [senior Nick Gianelos] was still on the course, and we needed a good score from him to win. Everybody [on our team] was antsy, waiting for him to come in, and then he birdied three of the last four holes to finish at even par 72.”
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