Mar. 6—Brunswick High, Frederica Academy and Glynn Academy boys' golf teams are just three of 22 teams competing in the annual Johnny Paulk Invitational today at Jekyll Island Golf Club.
This year's field may not be as big because of COVID-19 restrictions, but 22 talented teams are traveling to the Golden Isles to tee it up for bragging rights as the 2021 golf season gets started.
The remaining teams competing are Richmond Hill, Richmond Academy, Camden County, South Effingham, Valdosta, Savannah Christian, Ware County, Wayne County, Tift County, Colquitt County, Habersham Central, North Forsyth, Lowndes County, Lambert High, Benedictine, Metter High, Statesboro, and Newnan County.
This golf tournament will be Brunswick's first 18 hole event this season as they have been competing in nine-hole match plays.
Brunswick coach Drew Culpepper said he's just excited to see what his guys do with a full 18 holes.
"I'm just looking forward to seeing these guys make the turn and just put together 18," Culpepper said. "This is our first tournament, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do with 18 holes. As far as our expectations, I got a small group of guys. I only got six, and they love the game of golf. They love getting better, and so I'm just looking forward to seeing them get out there against some good competition that the Johnny Paulk brings."
Among those six, three of them have stood out to Culpepper — junior John Ferguson, freshman Jeremiah Austin and senior Austin Martin.
"So I got John Ferguson — he did outstanding last year in the Johnny Paulk, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do again this year," Culpepper said. "I have a freshman who played last year as an eighth-grader, and his name is Jeremiah Austin. He's been doing a lot of offseason stuff. He's been working hard. His game has gotten incredibly better. So I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in an 18 hole match as well. There's senior Austin Martin — I'm looking forward to seeing him playing in the tournament as well and see what he can do."
Brunswick High will be playing with Savannah Christian, Tift County and Colquitt County with tee times starting at 9:20 a.m. on the 10th hole.
Frederica Academy and Glynn Academy will face off with each other in today's golf tournament. Rounding out their foursome will be Richmond Hill and Benedictine. Their tee times start at 8:40 a.m. on hole 1.
The Knights will be without their two stand-out eighth-graders, but coach Tom Willis said they have some guys who can replace them and give them a good shot.
"We've got a really good team this year — a lot of very good golfers," Willis said. "Unfortunately for us, two of our top guys are eighth-graders in Jackson Byrd and Jack Roberts. They are ineligible to play in this tournament because it's a GHSA event, and they don't allow eighth-graders — you have to be in ninth grade. So that hurts our chances a bit, but we have a number of good players that if we all play well, we'll have a chance at it."
He will be looking to Thomas Henderson, a transfer from Ohio and freshman Aarnav Nath who transferred from Dubai. Then there is Roy Boyd, Cason Cavalier and his younger brother Travis, who Willis said if they can put together some good scores, they could come away with a strong finish.
"So we have a chance if we can put four scores together, maybe have somebody go really low we might have a shot," Willis said. "The field in this tournament is very strong, and they always get a few teams that are some of the top teams in the state. It's hard to win, you have to play well to win, but we've been close. We've been in the top three of this tournament before, so you never know."
Frederica is looking to win their 12th straight state championship after getting their season cut short to COVID-19. Willis said they play in tournaments like the Johnny Paulk Invitational because it makes them stronger.
"The better the competition, the better it is for the players, in my opinion," Willis said. "Playing with better players gives you a lot of drive — makes you focus. If you're playing with someone who's a good player, you see a lot of good shots. So you don't get to relax if you're trying to beat that individual. It makes you grind and makes you focus. So all of that is good."
Glynn Academy, the host team, also has a strong group of golfers ready to tee it up today. Coach Mike Zito said he's been preparing his guys all week for this event for the tougher conditions.
"The weather's going to pretty tough tomorrow, it's going to be high of probably 58 or 60, and it's going to be blowing 15 to 20 all day tomorrow. So scores are going to be a little elevated tomorrow," Zito said. "We realized the weather, so in practice — steadily working on short game, and also because the conditions are going to be so bad, we were working on flighting our balls this week."
With eight guys on his roster, Zito said he's confident that he's picked the right five.
"We have eight players, and right now, I have three or four that are standing out," Zito said. "The great thing about golf is their scores indicate where they line up. We have eight players that can kind of fill in anywhere. It's really about trying to get the right five, and we feel like we got the right five."
As the host coach, Zito said it's important to carry on this tournament in Johnny Paulk's name and keep it a premier high school golf tournament.
"I think this tournament has been going on for at least 30 years. It's important to me that we have a quality field and that we honor him," Zito's said. "So it's a great way to start the season."
Tee times start at 8 a.m., and the teams will go off on split tees. The top four scores will be counted for each team, and it'll be a one-round tournament.