Three South Floridian golfers won state titles last year — boys champs Brett Roberts and Luke Clanton and girls gold medalist Casey Weidenfeld — and all of them have taken different paths since being crowned last fall.
Roberts, who won a Class 3A title while competing for St. Thomas Aquinas, has since decided to be home-schooled this year while he awaits to begin his college career at Florida State.
Weidenfeld, who won the 2A title while competing for Plantation American Heritage, would’ve been a junior in high school this year. However, she is taking dual enrollment at Broward College, where she will get her high school diploma while simultaneously earning collegiate credit.
But while Roberts and Weidenfeld left high school golf behind, Clanton — who won a 2A title for American Heritage — has embraced it, and his teammates are a big part of his story.
“A lot of players have taken the home-schooling option, and I think it’s a good idea for them,” said Clanton, who is the world’s top-ranked player for his 15-year-old age group. “But I play better when I’m with my teammates. I practice harder, and it helps me get better at golf.
“Staying at Heritage was my best option. I wanted to be more social instead of being enclosed.”
Clanton won his championship by three strokes, shooting an even-par 144. However, he didn’t know he was on top of the leaderboard until his coach, Brandt Moser, told him he was three up with four holes to play.
“I didn’t even know I was in contention,” Clanton said. “It sounds weird, but I don’t get nervous. I just get excited. I’m ready for the moment.”
The only disappointment for Clanton was that Heritage finished second as a team, losing by just seven strokes to Ponte Vedra.
However, Heritage returns its top five golfers this year. Aside from Clanton, that includes senior Leo Herrera, who was ranked as high as 15th in the nation for his age group at one point this summer and has signed to golf at UCF.
Senior Jude Kim, who is considering Yale for college, sophomore Gabriel Hegerstrom and junior Jonathan Mourin are also back for Heritage.
But Clanton, who was born and raised in Miami Lakes, is clearly the star.
“Luke is mature beyond his years,” Moser said. “He makes the smartest decisions on the course.”
Clanton, a 6-foot, 140-pounder, has narrowed his college choices to Auburn, Florida, FSU, Georgia and Oklahoma State.
With a 3.9 GPA, Clanton wants to study engineering in college. But he’s in no hurry to get there.
“My high school team is like my family,” said Clanton, whose average drive is about 295 yards. “I would love to do home-school because it would be easier on me. But I really couldn’t leave my teammates.”
Clanton, who started golfing at age three, said he is grateful his father, David, has taught him the game every step of the way.
“My dad read a lot of magazines to learn the golf swing,” Clanton said. “He watched video of [pro golfer] Justin Rose, and he based my swing off of him.”
While Moser says the Columbus Explorers are the best team in Dade “by far,” there are some excellent individual players elsewhere in the county.
Columbus coach Michael Marinelli lists Ransom Everglades’ Jake Beber-Frankel as the best golfer in Dade after he finished tied for sixth at state last year in Class 1A. He was three shots back of the winner with a one-over-par 145.
Marinelli lists Palmer’s Cameron Piedra (tied for 16th at state last year) and Gulliver Prep’s John Marshall as the next golfers on his rankings before he gets to Columbus’ Andres Atrio, who is just a freshman.
The Explorers have some quality veterans such as senior David Ragan, who made first-team All-Dade last year; and junior Justin Rodriguez, who won the summer series at Melreese.
But it’s the young golfers — ninth-graders Atrio, Hans Risvaer, Max Fonseca and Christian Figueredo — who have truly bolstered Columbus’ hopes.
Said Marinelli: “This is one of the best freshmen classes in school history.”
▪ District tournament: Oct. 14-16
▪ Regional tournament: Oct. 21-23
▪ State championship: Oct. 29-Nov. 6 at Mission Inn Resort (near Orlando)
2018 STATE CHAMPS
▪ Boys: Winter Park (3A); Ponte Vedra (2A); Windermere Prep (1A)
▪ Girls: Lake Mary (3A); Plantation American Heritage (2A); First Academy (1A)
The American Heritage boys, who won state titles in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and have come in second seven times, figure to contend for the top spot on the podium. Columbus, which won state in 1999, 2001 and 2002, is the top overall team in Dade.
Among girls’ golfers to watch include Victoria Hagenlocker (Gulliver); Skylee Shin (Divine Savior); and Giuliana Gomez (Doral). Hagenlocker also competed last season on Gulliver’s state-championship tennis team.