By DAVE LINK
Farragut senior Lance Simpson and CAK junior Kaleb Wilson had vastly different experiences while winning 2020 state golf titles and leading their teams to state championships.
Simpson fired a two-day, 13-under 131 Oct. 6-7 and won the Division I Class Large state championship under nice weather conditions at WillowBrook Golf Club in Manchester.
After several days of rain, Wilson played a soggy WillowBrook course and shot a two-day, 2-under 142 Oct. 12-13, winning the Division II Class A title and leading CAK to its fourth consecutive state championship.
“When we played state, the course was really, really dry, and it was perfect temperatures,” Simpson said. “It was perfect weather for golf.”
Not so for Wilson a week later.
“This year was a lot different than last year,” Wilson said. “Last year and some of the previous weeks leading up to the state this year were really scoreable conditions, but this year, the course (at WillowBrook) was absolutely drenched. My coach (Donnie Cooper) even said it wasn’t going to be playable the first day at state.”
While their rounds were differing, Wilson and Simpson still returned to Knoxville with state championships, and they’re the 5Star Preps Co-Boys Players of the Year for 2020.
Here’s a look at their state tournament performances and what’s ahead for the two golfers:
WILSON: “I DON’T REALLY GET AFFECTED MUCH”
Wilson said he trains to be able to grind under difficult conditions, and it was beneficial with the way WillowBrook played for the Division II Class A state tournament.
“It really wasn’t terrible weather in the days of tournament, but the course was just drenched,” Wilson said.
Wilson shot 2-under 70 for the opening round and had a one-shot lead over three players shooting 1-under 71s.
On the second day, Wilson again managed the best round of the day – an even-par 72 – and won by three strokes over Luke Sienkiewicz of Evangelical Christian School.
“That just (attests) as to how difficult the course was playing, almost in a way unplayable,” Wilson said.
His training and years of playing tournament golf helped under such conditions.
“It’s helped a bunch. It’s something that I pride myself on is my ability to just let stuff kind of roll off me,” said Wilson, who was third at state in 2019 and repeats as 5Star Preps Boys Player of the Year.
“I don’t really get affected much on the golf course by anything, so just leading into this I knew that if I could come out here being the most mentally tough and get everything I can out of my game every single day that we play, then I think that I was going to come out on top, and I did.”
Wilson is spending the offseason working with a trainer one day a week and working out with a friend three other days.
And he keeps working on his golf game.
“This year I’m putting a focus on getting stronger and longer and continuing to work on my short game, just as hard as I was last summer,” Wilson said. “But I want to put a premium on ball striking and distance so I can have that advantage come next year of being able to hit shorter clubs into greens and being able to reach some par-5s in two that other people cannot.”
Wilson doesn’t have any college offers yet, but he’s got solid interest from several colleges and coaches. His top three choices right now would be West Virginia, Auburn, and South Carolina.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the recruiting process different than previous years.
“I have lots of Zoom calls going on and emailing and calling and texting coaches a bunch cause right now we’re in a recruiting dead period until I think April 15 cause of COVID, so I can’t go and visit any schools,” Wilson said. “I just have to talk to them on the phone and then visit them come April and May.”
Wilson said he plans to play his first tournament “in March or April, depending on how my schedule and COVID turns out.”
SIMPSON: “I WAS PLAYING GOOD GOLF”
Unlike Wilson, Simpson benefitted from good course conditions for the Division I Class Large state tournament.
“I think when Kaleb played, it had rained a lot so the course got really soft,” Simpson said. “But when we played, it hadn’t rained for like a month before, so it was really, really dry.”
Simpson already had a state title to his credit, having won the weather-shortened 2018 championship with a 1-under 71. As a junior in 2019, Simpson shot 3-over 147 and finished ninth.
His 2020 state appearance was a memorable one.
The Tennessee signee shot 5-under 67 on the opening round and was tied with Dickson County’s Jackson Herrington.
On the second day, Simpson fended off the field by firing an 8-under 64, winning by two strokes over Herrington.
Everything was right. His golf game, and the conditions.
“It was definitely a combination,” Simpson said. “I was obviously playing good golf, and I just kept on hitting the greens and making putts.”
However, Simpson’s offseason took a turn for the worse Dec. 1 when he broke his fibula while playing golf.
“I was practicing, and it just snapped,” Simpson said. “I heard it snap and everything.”
Simpson spent much of Dec. 2 with doctors, who determined the clean break to his right leg – the one he leans back on when taking his swing – did not require surgery.
He said doctors were as surprised as him about the broken fibula.
“All the doctors were like, ‘What happened?’ ” Simpson said. “And I told them, and they were like, ‘We’ve never heard of anything like that.’ ”
Simpson expects to be in a boot until early January and stay on crutches until that time.
“They say it will be a pretty quick recovery,” he said.
Simpson won’t stay idle, though.
His workouts will continue.
“I can’t really do much stuff with my lower body,” Simpson said. “I’ll definitely strengthen my left leg still, and I’ll still go to the gym and do upper-body stuff to stay fit and everything, but then once I got out of the boot, I’ll slowly start getting back into running again since I run track as well.”
Simpson had planned to play a tournament in mid-December and had to withdraw.
He isn’t sure when his next tournament will be.
“Once I’m cleared,” said Simpson, “I’m going to start practicing again and then find a few tournaments, and start playing some amateur events before college.”