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Twist of fate deals cruel blow to PHS golfer Tanner Napier

Tanner-Napier-Summer-2012From weekend duffer to the world’s No. 1 golfer, anyone who has even attempted to play the game of golf knows how fickle the sport can be. Just ask Paris High senior Tanner Napier.

After Monday’s opening round at Lost Pines Golf Resort outside Bastrop Napier was on top of the Class 3A world with a 3-stroke lead heading into the final round of the state championship.  Despite a warm, sustained southern wind that made the 7,200-yard, scenic Wolfdancer Course even more challenging, Napier carded the day’s only sub-par round with a 1-under 71.

He caught a few breaks along the way, such as beneficial rolls, favorable landing areas, and welcome bounces.
Overnight, however, a cold front blew though and brought with it a northwesterly breeze gusting to 30 mph during Tuesday’s final round. It was an ill wind for the state’s No. 1-ranked Class 3A golfer.

“Tanner didn’t catch a single break all day,” his father Brent lamented afterwards.

The course that Tanner tamed on Monday became the tamer Tuesday as Napier ballooned to a second-day, 6-over 78 that left him tied with Andrews‘ G. K. Morrison, the state’s No. 3-ranked golfer. Both golfers finished with two-day totals of 5-over par 149s, 3 strokes better that their nearest pursuers.

Then, the final indignation. With darkness settling over the hilly resort, and instead of declaring a tie and co-championship, UIL and tournament officials quickly hustled the pair back to the No. 1 tee for a one-hole playoff.  Morrison, who had just led Andrews to the team championship by 6 strokes over Argyle, had a 20-minute rest period after finishing his round of 2-over 74.  Napier had none, not even a chance to visit the restroom.

Fortune failed to return to the side of the well-mannered Wildcat who was seeking to become the first Paris golfer to win an individual state title since Mark Dees in 1980.  Napier, who had never before lost a tournament playoff, finished runnerup at state for the second straight year when Morrison dropped a 25-foot putt for par.

But it was an outstanding tee shot by Napier that unfortunately settled in the back edge of a fairway divot that lost him a decent final shot at the gold medal.  It was that kind of day, full of those kinds of bad breaks.

It started to sour on hole 3 when Tanner’s tee shot found a deep fairway bunker to lead to the first bogey of the day and put him even-par for the tournament.  Then came a disastrous 3-putt on No. 4 for a double-bogey that put him at 2-over par for the championship.

His approach shot on No. 6 rolled off the green and into water for a 1-stroke penalty and another of his 7 plus-par scores of the round.  He made the turn at 4-over 40, but his problems were far from over.

He bogeyed Nos. 11 and 12 and had to take another drop when his drive was lost in jungle vegetation that flanks the right side of the 12th fairway. He was visibly frustrated as he sensed that the elusive tournament title was slipping away.

Unlike professional golf which keeps stroke-by-stroke results, high school golf is a blind competition. Scores are only posted at the conclusion of the round, so Napier had no clue how he stood although he started to hear some big cheers from the gallery following his main competition. Napier was in the final foursome of the tournament.

Sensing that the top spot was slipping away, Napier went for broke on the par-5 14th hole. His approach shot found the front bunker. He chipped to within 15 feet of the hole, but his birdie chances turned to bogey with his second, uncharacteristic 3-putt of the round.

He hit his tournament valley at plus-6.

To his credit, Napier didn’t fold even after his tee shot found the left rough separated from the green by tall trees. He skied a magnificent approach shot to set up a short birdie putt and stop the skid. He returned to plus-5 for the tournament.

He parred the next two holes, and he almost chipped in for birdie on the 17th, scene of his first recorded hole-in-one during a pre-tournament practice round.

That left just the finishing hole: The 517-yard, par-5 No. 18. After Napier’s group teed off, Paris coach Randall Lewis was told that Morrison was the leader in the clubhouse, also at plus-5. A birdie finish wins the tournament for the Paris golfer, but rules prevent Lewis from relaying that information to his player.

Still, Napier’s approach landed just off the green. If he goes up-and-down, he wins with a birdie. His chip bounced 25 feet past the hole. His birdie putt was well-paced but slides just past the hole. He dropped a 3-foot par for the tie.

He was disappointed, but family and friends converged to console him as he signed his scoreboard and headed to the clubhouse for his final fate. It’s now 7:51 p.m.

Oddly enough, darkness played a major role in a second-place finish for a recent Paris High golfer. Stuart Smallwood was leading the 2010 tournament when play was halted at 7:41 p.m. due to darkness (and this was 3 weeks later in the year from the 2014 tournament with a much later sundown).

The 2010 UIL and tournament officials felt it was too dark then to continue play and reverted to 27-hole scores to decide the championship. That left Smallwood in second place.

Apparently, just four years later, playing state championship golf in the dark is acceptable.

Tanner’s Hole by Hole Final Round Saga (par score/Tanner’s score):

  • 1 (4/4). He has no problem with the opening hole, but it’s obvious that a northwest breeze gusting to 30 mph will make sub-par scores few and far between.
  • 2 (4/4). Tanner plays it safe with an iron shot off the tee while others in his foursome use their drivers.  He misses a 12-foot birdie putt, a bad omen for the day.
  • 3 (5/6). This hole is laced with fairway bunkers, and Tanner’s tee shot found the back wall of a deep trap.  His 15-foot par shot slides right.  He’s now at par for the tournament after his first bogey of the round.
  • 4 (3/5). The first real disaster of the day. He misses the green and chips 15 feet past the hole before 3-putting for double-bogey. That puts him 2-over for the tournament and time for legitimate concern.
  • 5 (5/5). Tanner needs a boost, and he has a booming tee shot but leaves his approach shot short of the green in a deep valley. He has a blind chip to the hole and misses a 20-foot birdie putt.
  • 6 (3/4). He gets another bad break when his tee shot rolls into a waterfalls that borders the green.  He takes a 1-stroke penalty for a drop and has to make a 15-footer for bogey.  He’s now at 3-over for the tournament, which seems to be slipping away from his grasp.
  • 7 (4/3). Finally, a ray of hope for Day 2 when he drops a 15-foot birdie putt and returns to 2-over for the tournament.
  • 8 (4/4). An uneventful par on this 435-yard hole and perhaps stability has returned.
  • 9 (4/5). Tanner has a poor tee shot with an iron that sets up another bogey.  He makes the turn at 4-over 40 and plus-3 for the tournament.
  • 10 (4/4). Tanner pars the forested, dogleg-right, 384-yard hole.
  • 11 (4/5). He hits a poor approach shot that bounces over the green and sets up a bogey. He’s now 5-over for the round and plus-4 for the tournament.
  • 12 (3/4). Tanner’s tee shot is lost in the jungle that flanks the right fairway.  He takes another drop but miraculously sinks a 20-footer to avoid another double-bogey. He’s now 6-over, plus-5 and visibly frustrated.
  • 13 (4/4). He pars the 440-yard hole.
  • 14 (5/6). Perhaps feeling like his tournament chances are fading, Tanner goes for an eagle on this 567-yarder that doglegs left.  His approach shot lands in the bunker, but he blasts out to within 15 feet of the hole. Then disaster: a 3-putt to go from birdie to bogey.  That brings him to a personal lowpoint of 7-over and plus-6 for the tournament.
  • 15 (4/3). To his credit, Tanner doesn’t fold even after his tee shot lands in the rough.  He recovers with a great approach shot over the trees and short birdie putt.  Now he’s back to 6-over and plus-5.
  • 16 (4/4). Tanner’s chip shot leaves a short putt for par.  He’s still 6-over and plus-5.
  • 17 (3/3). This is the hole he recorded his first hole-in-one on a practice round.  He almost chips in for a birdie, but settles for par.
  • 18 (5/5). He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s tied with Andrews’ G. K. Morrison (playing in the foursome ahead) atop the medalist scoreboard despite the horrific round.   He’s heard a couple of big roars from the gallery following Morrison’s group so he senses urgency. A birdie wins it; par means a probable co-championship due to fading daylight which would make a playoff impractical. He hits a long drive and his approach is just off the green, but he chips 25 feet past the hole. Tanner’s birdie putt slides just to the left of the hole, and he drops a 3-footer for par. He finishes with a 6-over 78 and two-day total of 5-over 149. It’s now 7:51 p.m., sundown is officially at 8:07, and Tanner still has to report to the clubhouse, sign, and deliver his scoreboard.  Day over, right? Wrong. Tournament officials decide to race Morrison and a mentally and physically drained Tanner back to the first tee for a playoff despite battling near darkness.
  • 1 (playoff). Tanner has never lost a golf playoff, and he hits a great tee shot; unfortunately, it lands on the back edge of a divot to ruin his chances on the hole.  Meanwhile, Morrison sinks a 25-foot putt for par to win the hole and the playoff. Tanner finishes as runnerup for the second straight year.
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