David Hicks knows the way.
The Middle Township High School sophomore leads a contingent of golfers from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties into the season-ending Tournament of Champions at Hopewell Valley Golf Club at 11 a.m. today.
Middle Township and Mainland Regional each qualified for the TOC as teams. Wildwood Catholic’s Blake Vogdes, Vineland’s Eric Dargis and Southern Regional’s Jackson Fiel each qualified as individuals.
Hicks led all area golfers last season as a freshman, shooting a 2-over-par 74 at Hopewell Valley in the TOC to finish tied for sixth overall (tied for first in state Group II).
He played alongside champion Peter Kim of Metuchen, one of the top high school golfers in the country.
“I got to see the course played really well,” Hicks said. “That let me see what can be done.”
Hicks and Middle each went to a playoff last season for the State Group II team and individual titles. State officials decided at the last moment that a second team playoff hole would also act as the individual tiebreaker. Hopewell Valley’s Will young birdied the hole, putting Hicks and the Panthers in second place.
“That definitely makes you want to get back up there and try to improve on it,” Hicks said. “It was a great finish last year, but it also made me really want more.”
Vogdes and Dargis each qualified for the TOC for the first time this year.
Vogdes walked the course and rolled some putts Sunday. Dargis played a practice round Wednesday.
Vogdes shot an 81 at sectionals last season as a freshman and didn’t qualify but shot an 82 this season in tougher conditions and qualified after finishing tied for second.
“It was a good feeling just to be able to get in after a disappointing round,” Vogdes said. “It doesn’t really matter what you shoot there. …I view it just like a qualifier. That doesn’t really mean anything to me as much as this.”
Vogdes said his keys are simple.
“For me, it’s all about putting well right now,” Vogdes said. “I just have to putt well and keep the ball in play, not do anything stupid.
“I’m looking forward to it. It should be good.”
Dargis shot a 77 to finish in fourth at the South-Central Group IV tournament last week.
He hopes a hole-in-one in the team’s match Friday at Green Tree Golf Course acts as a good omen.
Dargis aced the 242-yard par-4 fifth hole with a 5-wood.
“It was nice,” Dargis said.
The Vineland junior said he kept the ball and plans to frame the scorecard as a memento.
Dargis said Hopewell Valley is a tough course. “It’s a really tight course with really thick rough and really old-style greens that are really tiny,” Dargis said. “I have to keep it in the fairway.
“I’m very excited. There is definitely some good competition. It’s going to be fun.”
Kim is ranked No. 5 in the country in Polo/American Junior Golf Association’s ranking of golfers and will play at Army next season. Kim, the favorite again this season, broke his own state record by shooting a 7-under-par at sectionals.
“You definitely want to put out a good number for yourself, but there are so many good kids there,” Hicks said. “You just have to post the best number you can and see how it holds up.”
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