LIMERICK >> Downingtown West freshman Nick Gross and Holy Ghost Prep junior Calen Sanderson separated themselves from the pack during Tuesday’s District 1-3A Boys Golf Championship.
Going into the final two holes, Gross and Sanderson were all tied up, neither having gone over par since the front nine.
In his first district championship event, Gross looked like a vet as he parred both 17 and 18 to finish with a one-under 71 for the day and a four-under 140 for the tournament, earning a two-stroke victory over Sanderson. Unionville senior Roy Anderson finished third at one-under for the tournament.
“Today towards the end it was just me and Calen,” Gross said. “Sometimes it will be three, four players and you gotta be smart in how you play shots, but today you had to focus on yourself, but also be aware of what Calen was doing.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever played a round with him,” he added of Sanderson, “but he’s a great player. I’ve seen scores, and he lived up to it today.”
After they both parred the 17th hole, Gross and Sanderson came into the par-five 18th hole tied at four-under.
While Gross found a bunker on the left side forcing him to lay up before the water from about 285 yards out, Sanderson drove his ball into the middle of the fairway to give himself a chance to reach in two.
Sanderson played aggressively shooting his second over the green to the right before it bounced off a hill and out of bounds. He finished with a double-bogey on the hole — his first double of the tournament and the first over-par score he’d posted since the second hole Tuesday.
Gross left himself about 139 yards after hitting a seven-iron out of the bunker and used his stock pitching wedge on the third-shot, giving himself an easy two-putt to win the tournament by two strokes.
“I hit a really good shot. I just hit it too well,” Sanderson said. “It was a good shot. It did get a really bad hop. … I hit a lot of really good shots, hit a lot of shots close, made a couple putts, capitalized, took some nice up and downs. It’s just unfortunate how it ended, but I played well and Nick played well. It was a good match.”
“It was really fun,” he added. “(Gross) made a couple nice birdies on the back. I made a couple nice saves and a couple nice putts. He just played really well. Props to him. He deserves it.”
After carding a three-under 69 during Monday’s first round, Gross led Anderson by two strokes and Sanderson and Central Bucks West senior Milo Jezzeny by three strokes entering Tuesday’s final round.
Sanderson took a three-shot lead on Gross when he birdied holes 7, 8 and 10, following bogeys by Gross on holes 6 and 8.
The Downingtown West freshman found a way to regroup, however, going bogey free the last 10 holes. He tallied his first birdie of the day on hole 11, followed immediately by another on hole 12 before tallying his third birdie of the back on 16 to tie Sanderson heading into the last two holes.
“I was hitting the ball pretty well, I just made two stupid bogeys after perfect drives,” Gross said of his early hiccups. “I kind of knew all I had to do was just hit some better iron shots and I was right there.”
Anderson’s 73 on Tuesday tied with five others, including Unionville teammate Win Thomas (+4), for the third best round of the day behind Gross and Sanderson.
Thomas and Anderson helped Unionville cruise to a District 1 team title, combining with Ross Charlton, Danny Donnelly and Stephen Starnes to finish at 301, which was seven strokes better than second place Central Bucks West.
Unionville’s team District 1 championship qualified the group for the PIAA team championships Oct. 26 at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York. Resort.
Anderson said optional practices at Kennett Country Club and Radley Run Country Club starting the third week of August contributed to his team being ready for the postseason after only officially starting their high school season last week.
“We made the most of it by just playing those practices and a lot of rounds that didn’t count to stay competitive,” Anderson said.
The top 12 finishers from the district tournament advanced to the PIAA individual championships, taking place Oct. 20 at Heritage Hills. There are no regional golf championships this season.
Along with Gross, Sanderson and Anderson, Central Bucks West’s Milo Jezzeny (+1), West Chester Henderson’s Dylan Kochis (+3), Wissahickon’s Christian Matt (+3) and Jackson Tappen (+5), Unionville’s Thomas (+4), West Chester Rustin’s Eric Miller (+5) and Ryan D’Ariano (+5), Souderton’s Stephen Butler (+6) and Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Dylan Gooneratne (+7) all qualified for states.
Gooneratne defeated Spring-Ford’s Luke Watson, Hatboro Horsham’s Noah Sim, and Downingtown East’s Jake Leon in a four-person playoff for the final spot in states.
Unlike most year’s the state tournament will be a one-day event to avoid overnight stays due to COVID-19 concerns, meaning one good round could push someone to a state title.
“It’s one day so anything can really happen,” Jezzeny said.
Gross, who was competing in national tournaments prior to the high school season, didn’t initially intend on playing past the District 1 tournament due to a prior event commitment that conflicted with the regionals date.
With the 2020 PIAA regional tournaments cancelled, Gross is excited his freshman year — condensed due to the original shutdown of Ches-Mont sports caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — will continue with one more tournament.
“It was a surprise to have a season and a pleasant surprise, but to be able to play and do as well as I have it’s a blessing,” Gross said of the high school season.
“It’s not a whole lot different, but there is a little bit of pride,” he added. “It’s a lot of fun, just a lot of kids I know locally, my teammates, and it’s been a really exciting ride so far.”