It’s considered conventional wisdom that golf is a “fair weather” sport, something that’s best played on warm days with sunny skies.
Conventional wisdom never met 2018 Western Piedmont Athletic Conference golf champion Evan Marion and his teammates on the North Surry men’s golf team, who qualified for the NCHSAA 2A West Regional as a team for the first time in a decade after finishing second in the WPAC standings.
“We played the whole season in bad weather,” said head coach Travis Flippen. “It seemed like it was either very cold or raining, or both, every time we played. In the conference championship, it was pouring rain all day, all 18 holes.”
It turned out not to be a problem for the Greyhounds. For a number of years, North Surry had been a whipping boy for the numerous strong golf programs in the area, finishing dead last in the WPAC in 2017. However, the Greyhounds decided they were tired of losing, and dedicated themselves in the off-season to becoming a stronger team.
“It was a great accomplishment to come as far as we did from where we were in my first three years,” said Marion, the team’s only senior and a golfer since he was in seventh grade.
In 2018, the Hounds escaped from the WPAC basement and spent much of the season nipping at the heels of perennial conference power Forbush. The Falcons held onto the team title this season and North Surry settled for second, but the conference’s top dog wore blue and gray.
Marion finished 19th in the conference as a junior, but knew he’d have to step up his game in 2018 if the Hounds were going to have a better season, and for him to pursue his goal of playing college golf. As soon as the ‘17 season ended, he dedicated himself to improving his game.
“I tried to get in a few shots every way I can,” he said of his off-season training. Marion also played basketball for the Hounds this winter, but his focus was on golf, which he said was his favorite sport.
Come spring, both he and junior teammate Austin Smith, who had finished 17th in the conference the season before, were two of the most improved high school golfers in the state. Marion took the lead in the WPAC early on, and held it until he was overtaken by a rival with just three matches left in the season. Going into the conference championship meet on April 23, Marion was five shots off the lead. Making matters worse, the playing conditions were more suitable for ducks than golfers.
He didn’t let the atrocious conditions faze him. In fact, Marion was quietly confident as he warmed up that morning.
“I felt like I could make it up, based on how well I was striking the ball in practice,” he said. “I have played in the rain before, but nothing compared to how hard it was raining that day. We were all soaked.
“I was just trying to come up with a good score and hopefully win the conference tournament.”
Marion played so well that he was actually playing the course under par for most of the day. He eventually took the conference lead out on the course and held it the rest of the way.
“I have a video that shows just how hard it was raining that day,” said Flippen. “Evan was 2-under going into 17, which was pretty amazing for anyone to shoot a score like that. I was very proud of him. Austin Smith came in third that day and he also played very well.”
Following the meet, Marion was named as the WPAC Player of the Year, and Smith was chosen All-Conference. Teammate Seiver Huff was named honorable mention. They and the rest of the team, consisting of Chase Wright, Wesley Nichols, and Jarrett Hiatt, qualified for regionals. It was North Surry’s first time playing postseason golf since 2008.
“Evan came from 19th the year before all the way to first, which just shows the amount of work he put in,” said Flippen. “Golf is not an easy sport, and for someone to do what he did was pretty amazing. He definitely worked hard in the off-season and it paid off.
“Everyone worked hard. We came in second this season, and last year we were last.”
Marion graduates in a few weeks and is seeking a place to play college golf. He already has an offer to play for Surry next season. As for his teammates, they will keep trying to catch the Forbush Falcons. They actually beat them in one of the conference matches this season in what was the Falcons’ only regular-season defeat, but Forbush still took the league title on aggregate.
“We will miss Evan. He was our only senior and a great teammate and leader,” Flippen said. “But we’ll try. (Forbush has) a really good team and several players coming back. With hard work this summer, I think we can do it.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.