Though neither West Forsyth golf team advanced to the upcoming state championships in Augusta, the Wolverines will be represented thanks to a pair of strong individual performances at the Region 6-AAAAA tournament Thursday in Dahlonega.
Both of the region’s individual low medalists came from West, as senior Walker Slaton excelled for the boys and sophomore Isabella Skinner took first for the girls.
Slaton’s 72 was two shots back of the actual low scorer, Milton senior Zack Jaworski. But Georgia High School Association rules dictate that if the low scorer in the tournament is on a team that qualified for the state tournament by finishing in the top two, as Milton did by winning the event, the lowest scorer from a team that did not qualify for the state tournament is crowned as the low medalist.
“I think it’s a good rule because it allows more kids to participate in the state meet,” West head coach Chris Roy said. “It’s a good rule for the kids and for the sport.”
Rules aside, Roy said Slaton is more than worthy of accolades. He shot the best round of his career in the tournament, and punctuated the week by signing a golf scholarship with Truett-McConnell College.
“His scores have been getting better and better throughout the season,” Roy said. “This has been an extraordinary season for him. What a tremendous way to go out, too.”
Roy said the low medalist honor and scholarship are a testament to the hard work and dedication Slaton has displayed while leading the program at West.
“His game has gotten more consistent as he has matured,” said Roy, who became head coach at West when Slaton was a sophomore.
“He has played in lots of tournaments against great competition and has faced some adversity. But I think that pushed him and he has used [adversity] as motivation to get better.
“Some kids say they want to accomplish something, but do they really want to do what it takes to get there?Walker is one of those kids that does.”
Roy said Slaton has been a great leader to a young team this season. The team’s other five scorers at the region tournament included sophomores Tanner Cline (88) and Dru Adams (93), and freshman Robert Shaw (84), along with seniors Tate Godwin (85) and Miguel Infante (97), who was in his first year of competitive golf. The team also included freshman Zach David and sophomore Mason Jones.
“Walker has been a great player and a great leader, on and off the golf course, all season,” Roy said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Meanwhile, as Slaton’s career is ending, there is much more in store for Skinner, the region low medalist for the second consecutive year. Her 76 was tied with Centennial’s Emily Kurey, who is advancing to the state tournament with her team. The Knights finished as the region runners up to Milton.
But while Slaton was the leader of his team, Skinner was a team of one this season. After winning the region team title last season, and finishing as the state runners up to Tift County, West’s girls had no other returning golfers this season.
West head coach Jen Hawkins explained that many golfers, like other high-school-aged competitors in other sports like tennis and gymnastics, prefer to compete on the junior circuits where they feel they will face more quality competition and be exposed to more college recruiters.
“But I can tell you that is beginning to turn,” Hawkins said. “College scholarships are beginning to become more accessible to high school players.”
As an example, she points to one of the players that graduated out of the West program last year, Margaret Yeh. She didn’t start playing golf until she came to West as a freshman. Now she is attending the University of Alabama-Birmingham on a full golf scholarship.
And Skinner is already attracting plenty of attention from colleges.
“The college coaches are crying my ear off about her,” Hawkins said of all the calls from recruiters. “She is a very talented young lady who loves to compete.”
Hawkins said Skinner will get to try her hand at leadership next season, as she expects to have enough players for a full team, which will include two rising freshmen from Vickery Creek Middle School. Unlike many players of her caliber, Skinner will be back to compete for the Wolverines.
“[Skinner’s] mother [Theresa] and I were talking about another [junior circuit] player who decided not to play for her high school this season,” Hawkins said. “[Theresa] said it was such a shame, because Isabella loves coming out and competing for her high school.”