Wilmot, Armstrong headed to states
LAKE PLACID — The week didn’t start off very well for Lake Placid’s golf team. But the Blue Bombers couldn’t have done a much better job finishing it off.
After seeing their string of Champlain Valley Athletic Conference titles end at five on Monday during their last match of the season in a road loss to Peru, the Blue Bombers rebounded in a big way at the Section VII Championships on their home course at the Craig Wood Golf Club.
In Thursday’s opening round, Lake Placid captured its third sectional team title in a row. Then on Friday in the second day of the tournament, the two golfers who have held down the two top spots for the Blue Bombers all season earned trips to the state championships at Cornell University.
In the individual championship competition, Hunter Wilmot placed fifth with a 36-hole total 174, and Jack Armstrong fired a score of 178 to finish in ninth place. The two were among four members of Lake Placid’s sectional championship team who made Thursday’s opening-round cut to advance to Friday’s second round.
Twenty-six golfers — approximately a third of the starting field — moved into the second round. Players with the nine lowest combined scores from both days qualified for the Section VII team that with head to the state tournament being held May 31-June 2.
The battle for the top spot turned into a dramatic three-way race between Regan Arnold of Willsboro, Beekmantown’s Korntawat Chavanchakij and Nik Hamel of Saranac Central. The three played together in Friday’s final foursome and were separated by just a single stroke heading onto the par-3, 17th hole. A birdie putt on the hole ended up giving Arnold the lift he needed, as the Warriors sophomore won the tournament with a 166, which included a five-over par 80 over the final 18 holes.
Chavanchakij, an exchange student from Thailand, and Hamel finished tied for second a shot off the pace with 167s.
As a sophomore a season ago, Wilmot all but had his first trip to the state championship all but wrapped up with two holes to play when the North Country Golf Club hosted the Section VII tournament. But a score of 12 on the 17th hole knocked Wilmot right out of the running. Wilmot didn’t falter this time around, and especially Friday on the back nine, where he fired a 39 to finish with an 84 for the day. Even with a slip up on the last hole, a triple bogey on the par-4 18th, the junior was able to break 40 after the turn. He carded a 44 on the front.
“A very good back,” Wilmot said. “It’s nice. I knew I had to play well on the back because my front nine was average. And I played very well until the last hole. It would have been a 36 if I parred it. I made a lot of long par putts, which were nice. They were ones that I usually don’t make at all. I had long breaking putts and it seemed like I was making all of them.
“Both days my drives were pretty sweet. They were long and straight,” Wilmot continued. “It’s really nice to make it, especially after being so close last year.”
Wilmot said he has no expectations heading to Cornell, adding that just earning the trip is satisfying enough.
“We’ll have a practice round before, but I’m not going to push too hard for anything, just hit straight shots,” he said. “Going there is all that really matters. It’s going to be a fun weekend I think. It will be a fun time.”
Competing for the first time in a sectional tournament, Armstrong, a transfer from Saugerties, carded an 86 in the last day to join Section VII’s state team. After shooting a 92 on the opening day, the freshman had two nines of 43 during a mainly consistent performance in the second round.
“I had a couple of bad holes, but then I’d get a birdie and get it back,” Armstrong said, adding that one of those came when he drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the seventh hole. “The rain slowed down the front nine, which kind of made it easier, and then it warmed up. I felt pretty good on the back. That’s where we normally play. An 86 today, I’ll take that.
“This is my first sectional, my first state tournament,” he added. “Just to go down there is going to be awesome, for the experience and everything; have fun and no pressure. I know I’m not going to be top 50 or anything like that. The first tee box is going to be pretty nerve-racking, but after that, it’s just going to be playing golf, having fun.”
With just a few exceptions, every golfer playing Friday turned in considerably lower scores than they did in the first round.
In finishing on top of the field, Arnold may have become the first golfer from the Mountain and Valley Athletic Conference to win an individual title at the Section VII tournament. If there was one, it stretches back decades and beyond the memory of those who were present during the two days at Craig Wood.
Arnold, carried a one-shot lead into Friday after an 86 on Thursday, and came through with a pretty amazing rally on the back nine to capture the victory. He started with a 44 and was well behind Hamel, who fired a two-under par 35 on the front. But the two golfers then switched trends on the back, as Hamel struggled in with a 44 while Arnold came through with a 36.
“I wanted to come into the the tournament and win it. I don’t know how I did it,” Arnold said. “Nik had a great front nine. I think I was down by seven strokes heading into the back. I was just looking to make pars, hopefully it would come back to me and it happened, so I’m really thrilled about that.
“I just didn’t want to give back a ton of strokes, just hold my ground, and if I got close, great,” Arnold added. “I didn’t really play good golf the first nine. On the back, I putted really well and my irons were great. I was able to put it on the green in regulation and get two putts.”
Both Hamel and Chavanchakij could have forced a playoff for first place had they two-putted the 18th green. As it turned out, Arnold was the only one of the three to role the ball into the cup in two putts to eked out the exciting win. In finishing tied for second, Hamel shot the low round the the tournament, finishing with a 79 Friday.
Chavanchakij, a junior at Beekmantown who will be heading back home to Thailand in a month, said he was fine with how things turned out.
“I’m nervous and excited at the same time,” he said. “I’m so ready for states now. I’m an exchange student playing golf. I didn’t expect any of this. Just playing golf, just having fun, I’d made it to the states. I have no regrets at all. We have a big tournament next week.
Also qualifying for the Section VII state team were Seton Catholic’s John Glover (fourth, 170), Peru’s Keegan Smith (sixth, 175), Moriah’s Thomas Clarke (eighth, 181) and Ben Lloyd of Northeastern Clinton (182).
For Lake Placid, Brady Tromblay placed 13th with a 188 total and Brendan Bullock was 20th with a 197 total.
Zach Churco represented Saranac Lake in the final round for the second straight year and finished with a 206.
“I knew the potential was there,” Lake Placid coach John Glinski said of Wilmot and Armstrong. “They are capable, but in golf, you have to go out and do it and it’s not always easy, especially under the pressure. I knew Hunter really wanted to make it after last year being so close. It is redemption for him. To see him to shoot a 39 on the back when he had to play well, that was great.
“For Jack, he was all worried coming from Section I, where the competition is better, I told him ‘You don’t have to shoot 36, 37 here. If you play solid, keep it in the low, mid 40s, you’ll be fine, and he did that. He avoided bad holes, he made some birdies. He’s going to have a great time and he’s only a freshman.”