When the Brookstone golf team begins the 38th annual Larry Gaither Hardaway Invitational on Friday at the Fort Benning Golf Course, it will enter with a chance to be the tournament’s first repeat winner since Glynn Academy in 2004-05.
Rarely does a team return the pieces it needs to make such a run. The Cougars, however, find themselves in prime position.
Led by last year’s individual champion, senior Parker Derby, who has signed with Georgia, and James Clark, who has committed to Georgia Tech, Brookstone expects to be in position to make a run at a repeat performance.
Derby will be trying to be the first repeat individual winner since Etowah’s Chris Kirk in 2002-03, but Clark has been the top golfer so far this season, averaging 74.8 and medaling in two tournaments.
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So far this season, Brookstone has won once at the Muscogee Invitational and finished second at the Packer Invitational.
“We’ve done everything we can to get ready,” Brookstone coach Trace Copeland said. “There’s always pressure coming back as a defending champion because people predict you to do certain things, but anything can happen. I feel like if our guys play their best, though, they’ll win.”
Playing their best has been a difficult task so far this season, and not just for Brookstone. Cold, rainy and windy weather has made for difficult conditions, causing average scores to increase for some players. Despite a rainy Thursday, sunny skies and mild temperatures are expected for the weekend, making it a good opportunity for the golfers.
“I think there will be some interesting scores,” Hardaway coach Alex Davis said. “I think it’s set up for them to score well.”
A key challenger out of the area is Columbus, which defeated Brookstone in the Packer Invitational.
Coach Chris Parker said that, with this group, they always have high expectations.
“With the group we’ve got, I think we expect to win every tournament we play,” he said.
That includes this one, despite the obvious challenge of facing 27 teams from around the state.
“We struggled early with course management,” Parker said. “We had too many double-bogeys, but I think we’ve worked on that some and we’re coming around. Out of all the teams, I think we’re as good a ball-striking team as there is.”
Columbus his led by Lamar signee Charlie Flowers and sophomore Stanton Schorr, though Parker said senior Will Johnson is an asset due to his experience in the tournament. He has played each of the last three years.
“I hope that experience is helpful,” he said.
Other area teams participating in the tournament are Hardaway, Northside, Shaw, Smiths Station and Central.
Davis said that he expects Northside to be another team that can make a run in the tournament. Outside the Bi-City area, Davis named Valdosta and Thomas County Central as two strong teams.
“There are a lot of good Georgia teams in the tournament this year,” he said. “It will be very competitive for about 18-20 teams.”
The morning rounds will tee off at 8:30 and afternoon rounds at 2:45 on Friday. Golfers will play the Bradley and Patton courses. On Saturday, tee times will be 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on the Marshall and Patton courses.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.