MOUNT STERLING —
Speedy greens and breezy conditions at Mt. Sterling Country Club didn’t faze Drew Burke.
The Boyd County junior shot 1-over par 72 for a three-stroke victory in the Boys Region 12 Golf Tournament on Monday.
Burke, who just turned 17, carded two birdies and only three bogeys in becoming Boyd County’s first individual region golf champion — boy or girl — since Tom Rupert in 1989.
“I’m pretty happy,” said the typically low-key Burke. “This is my best accomplishment in golf. I felt like I really managed my round well. I missed in the right places and gave myself opportunities.”
Burke came into the tournament feeling good about his chances. This summer, he earned Player of the Year honors in the 16-18 age group of the Tri-State Junior Tour and also had positive experiences on the Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association and Kentucky Junior PGA circuits. During the high school season, he shot 1-over in two different tournaments at testy Hidden Cove, along with a 76 at Monday’s site in the Montgomery County Invitational.
“After the summer and some of the high school season, I feel I can play with anybody,” he said. “I would like to have a good showing at state.”
The Boys State Championships will be played Oct. 7-9 at Bowling Green Country Club.
Montgomery County and Ashland earned team spots. Montgomery County won its first Region 12 championship by edging the Tomcats 314-317 for the top spot.
Burke led three individual qualifiers. The others included runner-up Ryan Gillum (75) of Elliott County, along with Chris Stull of Bath County. Stull won a three-way playoff with Russell’s Bobby Thomas and Elliott County’s Hunter Holbrook after they posted rounds of 77.
Burke credited much of his success to consistent 3-wood shots off the tee.
“My second hole, I hit driver off the tee,” he said. “The ball went left and I made bogey. The rest of the round I hit 3-wood off the tee.”
The pace of the greens made putting a challenge for everybody.
“They are extremely fast,” Burke said. “It’s very difficult. There are a lot of tiers and shelves. The greens are pretty firm, too. It makes you really have to work for every par you get.”
Burke’s dedication to the game is paying off. He started playing as a seventh-grader and put aside basketball, baseball and soccer to concentrate on golf.
“He really committed himself,” Boyd County coach Brent Burke said. “Drew is at the golf course all day, every day. Seeing what he did today, words can’t describe it.”
Montgomery County also experienced a special thrill. The region title was the program’s first 1993, when the Indians competed against Lexington-area schools.
“It’s very neat,” said Kevin Letcher, who is in his 11th coaching season at Montgomery County. “I have three seniors that have been with me several years. With all the hard work and dedication they put in, I’m really happy for that group.”
Two of the seniors, Zach Smith and Connor Danis, are former region tournament medalists. Smith won it as a freshman in 2010 — the same year Ashland won its first of three consecutive team championships.
“Zach is a fighter, and a great kid,” Letcher said. “He’s really good in the classroom, which is the most important thing. He’s definitely capable of playing at the next level.”
Smith shot 76, Danis 77, fifth-man Jay Harris Adams 79 and senior Aaron Vice 82 for the Indians.
“This is my seventh year starting for the team and we’re ecstatic to get the job done,” Smith said. “Team came first today. Ashland finished ahead of us every other time this season.”
While the Tomcats came up short in their quest for a four-peat, they accomplished a major goal.
”We are happy to go to state,” said first-year coach Mitch Hall. “The strength of our team is putting the top four players in the 70s. Montgomery County has been solid this year. Their five-man shot 79 today, that’s the difference.”
Logan Jones led the Tomcats with a 78, followed by Thomas Hall (79), Evan Cox (80) and Tate Justus (80).
“Logan and Tate, the two younger guys, have been solid for us all season,” Ashland’s coach said. “This was a tough course today.”
Russell and Elliott County tied for third at 333.
In the playoff for the final individual state qualifier, Russell’s Thomas advanced with Stull to the second extra hole before the Bath County senior won it with a par.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.