High School Sports

Prep golf | Lakewood Ranch boys hope to carry on state-title tradition


They're going for an unprecedented fourth straight boys state golf championship.

But this year's Lakewood Ranch Mustangs aren't the dominant force they've been in the past.

The Mustangs enter this week's Class 3A state tournament at Deer Island Golf and Lake Club in Tavares without a region title.

Ranch fell to Lithia Newsome by four shots in the Region 5 tournament on Oct. 20, and possess the third-best region team score (292) of the 16 teams playing in the two-day, 36-hole event that begins Tuesday.

"I think there's five teams that broke 300 in regions," Mustangs head coach Dave Frantz said. "I will be very shocked if we didn't finish in the top five. Obviously, we're shooting for the championship, but we've got some pretty stiff competition."

In 2011, the Mustangs ran the gauntlet with an undefeated season to capture their first state championship. They've followed that up with two more crowns, winning region championships along the way.

Among current players, Spence Schultz tasted a state title in 2012, Barry McDonnell had the low region score this year, Charlie and Kelly Sun won a state title last year, and fifth-man Mike Wijas is a freshman who excelled at the prestigious Honda tournament.

"I think it's better, a little bit," said Schultz, a senior who took a year off from high school golf in 2013 before returning this fall, of the Mustangs failing to win a region title. "because they aren't expecting us. They don't think we are as good as we really are, in my opinion. I think we are definitely good enough to beat all the teams in Class 3A, so we'll just have to prove them wrong."

The core of the last two state title teams were Ramsey Touchberry and Danny Walker -- they are now playing at the University of Florida and University of Virginia, respectively -- and Luke Miller, who decided to return to his home state of Pennsylvania to finish high school.

"We can't really think about what was in the past," senior Charlie Sun said. "Because back then, we had Danny, Ramsey and Luke. Right now, we have to think about how we as the year 2014 are going to win states."

Yet without those three, the Mustangs are gearing for another crack at a state title.

Ranch on a run

The groundwork for the current streak of three straight titles, which has happened just once in state history when the now-defunct Bradenton Prep accomplished the feat, began in 2010.

The Mustangs were close to claiming their first state golf championship.

But following a bitter defeat, in which they lost by eight shots to Port Orange Spruce Creek, junior Connor Baldwin, freshman Walker, freshman Touchberry, Frantz and assistant coach Matt Gordon met to come up with a plan for getting better prepared for the state tournament.

"We all agreed that it was playing in some of these tournaments that we didn't really investigate, we didn't really look at," Frantz said.

From that meeting, the Mustangs became a travel team competing around the state in 18-hole tournament matches.

They've also spent time battling it out in the Qdoba Tournament of Champions and the Honda, which are 36-hole events, to better acclimate themselves with the state tourney grind.

Since the Florida High School Athletic Association introduced a third classification for the 2013 season, there has been an extra week off between the region and state tournaments.

So to occupy that time, Frantz has gotten creative. The Mustangs have competed in various formats against each other during practices.

By now, though, they are locked in on preparing for Deer Island. The course featured lots of wind and tough greens in 2012, when Ranch won its second straight state title.

"Where we are going is between two large lakes," Frantz said. "And the wind just whistles through there. And it's not like, oh if you tee off in the morning you are going to miss it. You are going to have it pretty much all day."

Outside influence

When Touchberry and Walker spent their four years authoring the Mustangs' three-peat, they received lessons at Missing Link Golf Academy at the Legacy Golf Club.

This year's team mainly trains with Jon Bullas at Lakewood Ranch Golf Academy.

Frantz' role is to work on the mental and psychological aspect of the game while finding the right combination during tournament play.

And the development of East Manatee County has helped Lakewood Ranch attract golfers.

Some of those turn out to be junior players who earn their way into Lakewood Ranch's lineup.

Esplanade Golf and Country Club was the latest golf course built. It is situated just north of State Road 70.

Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club as well as The Concession Golf Club have given the Mustangs top venues to practice during the season, too.