by Mike London
RALLY – It’s a wet Saturday, but for sophomore East Rowan Landon Merrill, there are no bad days spent on the golf course.
He plays in the first round of the 12th annual Wolfpack Junior Amateur held at Lonnie Poole Golf Course.
Normally, Merrill is a parallel machine, a guy who can make 4 seconds in his sleep, but throws worrying about delaying the rain, which is more difficult for him than usual. Still, shoots 3 on the 75. Makes four spears to compensate for the damage done by a double bogey and five bogeys.
Now he can’t wait to get back on the track again today, and he’ll likely make some of those holes that bit him in the first round. This is it.
In two seasons in the East, Merrill impressed everyone as a low-fault young man, a high-ranking guy, and a stable guy. It is as steady as the sunrise. Everyone hits a bad shot every now and then, but he learned at a young age to reduce damage and move on.
As a sophomore, as he transitioned from coach Rhett Tim to coach Randy Kaiser, Merrill demonstrated the consistency of a senior. He was named Roanne County Player of the Year in the Post for the second time.
“I’ve been a better golfer this year than I have been as a freshman,” Merrill said. “My peg game has been greatly improved. My posture has been infinitely better.”
You might remember that as a freshman, Merrill was the North Piedmont Conference season champion and rolled the Roanne County Championship held at The Revival Golf Club in Crescent by 10 strokes.
So he raised the bar as a 9th grader.
The county championship wasn’t an escape for him this season – West McGwire Owen was determined to lead the Falcons to the team championship and saw it – but Merrill rose to the moment and shattered a perfect lead that was followed by the top 3 woods of his young life to set a double position for a critical birdie on the long par 5. On a wet day at the Country Club of Salisbury, Merrell’s 75 was good enough to beat Owen by two strokes, and now he’s a rare back-to-back county champ.
The regular season was a blast for Merrill and every player and coach at the reorganized South Piedmont, which has proven as competitive in boys’ golf as it has been in baseball.
“Norman Charter Lake, Northwest Cabarros, and West Roan had great teams,” Merrill said. “And there were a lot of good golfers on the other teams. Usually there were about seven of us in the lineup of medalists on certain days.”
Those were SPC nine-hole matches. They dropped the season’s worst score, meaning Meryl gave up 41. This left him with a 34-34-35-38-35-34 season scorecard. This is very strong. He finished second of the season to Talan Harrison in Northwest Caparros.
“I had four rounds of 1-under,” Merrill said. “And we got some new courses in the new league. Irish Creek was my favorite. This is a fun place to play.”
On the 18-hole South Piedmont Conference course at the Country Club in Salisbury, Merrill fired a 76 and was behind teammate (and medalist) Jaden Sprinkle.
Merrill turned 76 at the Country Club to tie for fifth at the 3A Midwest Regional. This qualifies him to take his first shot in the state championship as he does in the singles.
He shot an 81 in the first round at Pinehurst #6. At least 99.9 percent of the population would be excited to shoot an 81 in that course, but Merrill wasn’t happy with himself.
He came back on the second day to hit 76 and jump up the leaderboard to tie for 19th place. Owen, a friendly competitor, outplayed him on day one at Pinehurst, but Merrill ended up with the championship best by three shots.
“I played the course too long in the two days, and there wasn’t a lot of spinning,” Merrill said. “On day one I made four double bobs, but on day two I was a lot better. I didn’t have three hits one on day two, so this is a good run.”
Over time, as he gets older and stronger, Merrill’s characters will transform those ’76’ and ’75’s into their ’70s and ’70s. He’s got all the ingredients to become one of the top county players.
Besides his projected individual growth, Merrill believes East will have a stronger squad next season, with several new talents joining the squad.
“The goal is to get East back into the state as a team,” Merrill said. “We’ll be good.”
It’s been a solid season for county boys’ golf, with West taking the county title, Salisbury winning the Central Carolina Conference Tournament and qualifying for the state championship as a team. South’s Carson Cady Cranfield and Jackson Black join Merrill and Owen as state 3A singles finalists.
All county team
(Determined by coaches in the county championship)
89 was cut
East – Landon Merrill, Rush Jaden
West – McGuire Owen, Tyler Kepley, Gage Ludwick, Justin Cole
South – Jackson Black
Carson – Kid Cranfield
Salisbury – Will Webb, Warren Vesperman, Nick Antosek, Luke Graeber, Wade Robbins.
Coach of the Year – Ken Clark, West