Johnson County Golf Team starts season with strong performances
By Jonathan PleasantThe Johnson County Longhorn golf team seems to be off to a strong start in what could be a great season. Despite being fairly young with only two senior starters, Coach Steve Arnold still feels that the team has a lot of potential. Considering that the Longhorns have already won two of their first four matches and have held their own against several tough schools with a lot of senior leadership, early indicators have been very positive, but there is also still room to improve before the end of the season. “We have talent,” said Arnold. “I do believe they can play a little better than their scores have been, but I’ll take the scores we have at this point of the season.”
Playing two winning matches at home against Rye Cove and Elizabethton, the Longhorns have had some strong performances so far, with players like Jon Vannoy, Jacob Henson, Blade Hampton, and Nathan Timbs maintaining top slots while new and returning players both have worked hard to improve their game as well. One of the more unexpected performances has actually come from an incoming freshman, the younger brother of one of team’s senior players. “Brandon Vannoy may be a surprise so far,” said Coach Arnold. “He’s playing well enough to hang on to the number six spot on a consistent basis. Our team scoring is much better than last year, improving to 179 from 188, and we have the talent to lower that about five more strokes. We have six of the eight players averaging in the 40s with Jon Vannoy leading the way right now with a 42.7 average.
The elder Vannoy seems to be improving with every game, leaving the first match of the year at Buffalo Valley with 46 and dropping to 41 at the most recent match against Rye Cove. In that game the Longhorns walked away victorious, 176 to 200 coming right on the heels of another win against Elizabethton 179 to 184. Possibly the best match that the team has had took place at Warriors Path, where even though Johnson County didn’t take home the top position, the Longhorns still made a very impressive showing.
“We always play our best at Warriors Path. We even play the ball down, but it is so well maintained and very player friendly that if you can’t score there, you are just playing some bad golf. We even beat Sullivan Central there and haven’t beaten them in about 10 years,” said Arnold. Even considering the win against Central, where the Longhorns came out just one stroke ahead at 176 to 177, the overall win actually went to Volunteer, one of four schools competing that day.
With a strong senior presence teams like Volunteer and Happy Valley will likely be tough to overcome, but Arnold seems hopeful of the team’s ability to persevere. “Happy Valley has five seniors in their starting line up, the same as we did when we won the district, as does Volunteer. These boys are playing the hardest sport they will ever play and bad shots are going to happen. They just have to learn to brush it off and keep plugging away,” Arnold said.
Considering that golf is one of only two sports offered at JCHS that does not have a feeder program, the success of the team depends largely on the determination and the willingness to learn and practice of the individual player, a challenge that Coach Arnold readily admits. “There isn’t enough room in this article to list all they encounter starting out,” Arnold stated. “But I have to say getting them to learn to use course management is the most difficult. Fundamentals also play a major part, but it doesn’t matter how good you hit the ball, if you do not know where to hit it and why.”
With having at least a year’s worth of experience behind most of the players, the Longhorns may just be getting warmed up and are already looking to make waves. “Hopefully the more they play the more consistent they become. They have to be able to take what the course is offering with their shot selection, and have a good reason why they are hitting each shot, and where they are hitting. They can hit the ball as good as any player in the conference, just not on a consistent basis. Experience plays a big part in golf, which is why we are already playing better right now than we did all year last year and only losing two players for next year’s team we will return five players that are playing every match this year,” said Arnold.
Yet beyond what scores they ultimately bring in, Arnold also made a point to emphasize the strong character of the team. “This is a great group of guys who work hard, get along with each other, and represent their school and community well. A lot of times, that low score is not the most important thing in the world,” Arnold said.