The Pocahontas County High School Warrior golfers have good reason to be confident. They beat back seven other teams to win the regional championship last season and made the trip to Wheeling for the state tournament.
This year’s squad includes senior Stephen Mick, juniors Matt Rao and Chase Alkire, and sophomores Brandon Wilfong, Austin Sharp and Brandon Halterman. All of the players are returners, except for Halterman. Rao and Mick are left-handed golfers.
The team is off to an early and excellent start. Before the start of the school year, the Warriors won a scrimmage at powerful Bath County and defeated Tygarts Valley in Buckeye on August 13.
Head Coach Phillip Anderson said his top three golfers hit the links hard this summer.
“Brandon Wilfong, he’s golfed about every day this summer,” he said. “He’s wanting to take his game to the next level. He’s been very dedicated this summer. I talked to Stephen Mick and Matt Rao, they’ve also played a lot of golf this summer. So, I look for us to be very competitive in the upcoming season. I look for good things.”
Anderson said the individual nature of golf makes it more challenging, in some ways, than other sports.
“It’s probably the most mental game that there is to play in athletics,” he said. “I’ve played every other sport and, by far, golf is more mentally challenging. It’s a team sport but it’s also an individual sport. They shoot individual. It’s not like they pass the ball to a teammate for an assist to score a basket. They have to make the drive, they have to make the iron shot, they have to make the putt themselves.”
But Mick finds the sport relaxing.
“It’s an easy way to relax and get things off your mind,” he said. “But it’s competitive. I like to go to states. We’ve been to states two out of the three years that I’ve played.”
Mick – a star basketball player at PCHS – gained five inches during the last four years and now stands tall at 6’4”. The senior said the growth spurt is good for basketball – but bad for golf.
“I have to get new clubs about every other year,” he said. “It gets kind of expensive.”
Wilfong took up the sport just two years ago and is already one of the best golfers in the county.
“It just takes a lot of practice and a lot of determination,” he said.
Currently the team’s number-one golfer, Wilfong described the mental aspect of the sport.
“It’s just a never ending journey,” he said. “You always can get better and you can always get worse. It’s just a puzzle and you have to try to solve it. There’s just thousands of things that can go wrong with your golf swing and your mind and everything.”
High morale is one of the most important elements in winning. Wilfong said the team has the will to win.
“I think we’ll make it to states again this year,” he said. “The team really wants and if they want it, they can do it.”
Rao, now in his second season with the Warriors, started playing about five years ago.
“It’s definitely a mental game,” he said. “If you let the game get to you, it will just mess you up even more.”
Mick said one of the worst things that can happen is losing one’s cool.
“You just can’t get mad,” he said. “If you get mad, you can’t play, you just start shanking the ball.”
Anderson is setting the bar high for this year’s team.
“I’m excited about this season and the school year,” he said. “The kids are focused and ready to play golf. We have an opportunity this year to do real well. It’s not going to be a walk in the park; we’re going to have to earn it. But I’ll take that group of boys anywhere. They are young men and I’m real proud of them and their professionalism. I feel honored to be able to coach them.”
The Pocahontas County Country Club provides free practice play and match play for the Warriors. The Raven Golf Club at Snowshoe provides free match play and a free driving range for high school players.
The next Warrior golf match is at Greenbrier East on August 30 at 4 p.m. The next home match is at Raven Golf Club on September 10 at 10 a.m.