GRAYSON LAKE —
The second half of Elliott County golf’s potent one-two punch came through in a rare four-way playoff for medalist honors in the Fannin Automotive Invitational.
Junior Hunter Holbrook rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole at Hidden Cove Golf Course to win the ninth annual boys high school tournament hosted by Greenup County.
“I’ve never been in a playoff before, so this feels great,” he said.
Holbrook, teammate Ryan Gillum, Boyd County’s Drew Burke, and Jacob Cook of team champion Franklin County all shot 1-over par 73s in the 69-player field.
The four leaders headed to No. 18 for the playoff. Holbrook and Cook made pars, while Gillum and Burke bowed out with bogeys.
The advantage swung to Holbrook on par-4 No. 17 after he nailed a long drive down the fairway and put his approach shot 5 feet from the hole. Cook, meanwhile, pushed his tee shot right and had to punch out into the fairway.
Cook, however, gave Holbrook a lot to think about when he sent his third shot within 6 feet of the flag and then connected to save par.
“I knew he was going to make that putt,” Holbrook said. “He had been putting the ball well.”
Holbrook responded by sinking a pressure shot of his own with a crowd watching.
“I wasn’t really nervous,” Holbrook said. “I knew if I didn’t make it, I could tap in for par and play another hole. Of course, I really wanted to put that one in because anything can happen on the next hole.”
The 6-foot-3 lefty rated it his top victory at the high school level.
“I’ve won quite a few events in the EKJGA (Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association), but as far as high school golf this is probably the biggest,” he said. “It shows me what I can do if I’m playing well.”
Elliott County coach Steve Gillum called Holbrook’s achievement a good sign.
“It’s a real nice win for him,” the coach said. “Hunter has been struggling a little bit. This is something that might get him going. There’s nothing like winning a playoff like that.”
Holbrook packs plenty of power off the tee. His drive on the final hole was a prime example.
“Hunter flat out kills the ball,” Steve Gillum said. “When he puts it in the fairway, he’s tough.”
Holbrook was happy to bounce back from an 83 the previous day at the Rowan County Invitational at Eagle Trace Golf Course.
“Some days I’ll shoot in the 80s, sometimes in the 70s,” he said. “That’s the way golf is. It shows what you can do from one day to the next.”
Holbrook got off to a shaky start Saturday morning on his home course by going bogey-bogey, but heated up with a 33 on the back side. He rolled in long putts on the 11th and 12th greens, the first for birdie and the next producing an eagle.
“After that, I was more confident with my putter,” Holbrook said.
Having a high school teammate the caliber of sophomore Ryan Gillum is a great help for Holbrook. Gillum, who plays No. 1 for the Lions and has been enjoying a strong summer, was 2-under par through 13 holes Saturday before hitting a rough patch with three consecutive bogeys.
“When we play together, it’s a lot better competition,” Holbrook said. “We push each other to make each other better. We don’t get mad. If he beats me it’s good, or the other way around. You always want to win, but you want the best for your teammate.”
Franklin County, located in Frankfort, and Ashland each put four scores in the 70s with the Flyers winning out by four shots (302-306).
On Friday, Franklin County also shot 302 in placing third at the Rowan County Invitational. And like Friday, the Flyers No. 4 and No. 5 players — freshman Will Molen and eighth-grader Will Harnice — came through with scores of 76 and 79 to give their team a boost.
“They just played fantastic,” Franklin County coach James Myers said. “They have anchored our team.”
That is, along with Cook, a sophomore rated by his coach as one of the best young players in the state.
This group has been playing for Myers since they were middle schoolers.
“We took our lumps early on, but they kept progressing by putting in a lot of hard work,” he said.
Cook has been team captain since the eighth grade. He recently returned from San Diego after playing in the Callaway World Junior Championships. Junior Luke Kellerman aided the Flyers’ cause Saturday with a 74.
“Two days in a row, we’ve been close with Ashland,” Myers said. “They are an outstanding team and a great bunch of kids.”
Sophomore Tate Justus and junior Logan Jones carded 75s to lead the Tomcats. Seniors Thomas Hall and Evan Cox shot 77 and 79, respectively.
“Very positive,” new Ashland coach Mitch Hall said of the team’s performance. “Thomas was away five weeks (Governor’s Scholar program) and has only been back a week and a half. So we feel pretty good. Franklin County is good and we can play with them.”
Elliott County took third in the team standings at 325. The Lions’ 4-5 players, Reece and Landon Griffith, played basketball in the AAU Nationals at Virginia Beach and didn’t get home until late Friday night.
“They were about to run out of gas out there today,” Steve Gillum said.
Elliott County finished one shot ahead of Russell, which had five players shoot between 78 and 84.
Greenup County followed in fifth with a 333 total. Coach Roger Gillum said Myers helped convince him to host a tournament years ago after seeing how regularly the Musketeers travelled out into the state to compete.
“He’s a good guy,” Gillum said. “He’s been a big help for me getting this started and pulling teams from central Kentucky.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.