The Dryden Purple Lions Boy’s Golf team turned heads all season long, as it found itself with a 16-0 regular season record.
The Lions are led by the strong-willed play of Kevin Gardner, a 15-time medalist during the season. Gardner is not the lone force that propels the team, as each of the players brings low scores to the round, securing victories for Dryden.
The Lions, while preparing for more immediate postseason play, are staring at the prospect of playing close to home in the state tournament which will be held at Robert Trent Jones Golf (RTJ) Course at Cornell. The course, while familiar to the players, is also familiar to the head coach of the Lions, David Hicks, who is the Superintendent at RTJ.
Looking forward to the prospect of a big performance in the state tournament and looking back on the road to an undefeated season, Hicks opened up about his Lions’ success.
Mark Shelley: How important to you and to your team is having an undefeated record at this point in the season?
David Hicks: At the beginning of the season, I told the kids that we would likely be favored to win most, possibly all of our matches. I told them that being in that position was a great accomplishment, and they had gotten to that point by virtue of the work they had put in over the past several years. I showed them a picture of a blank wall. I told them, “That is the trophy you get for being pre-season favorites.”
It was very important to us to finish the season undefeated, but as the season progressed, I think the kids did a great job of focusing on the journey and letting the destination be something we can enjoy once we get there.
MS: Kevin Gardner has led the team all season long. How important have his 15 medalist honors been to him and the team overall?
DH: Before the season started, Kevin told me, and the rest of the team, he wanted to be medalist in every match. I admit, I thought that was a crazy goal to have and unlikely to accomplish, but I like the mindset of wanting to go and do so, consistently. He came close to achieving his goal, but his teammate, Connor Smith, beat him a few times. Connor is a young rising golf star, in his own right, and obviously, he wants to compete with and beat Kevin.
MS: Gardner found himself falling behind at the Section IV Individual Medalist Tournament, but battled back to take seventh and clinch a spot in the state tournament. What is it about his attitude and composure that gives him the ability to turn slow starts into great finishes?
DH: He has a lot of confidence in his ability. When he was younger I would say, “He is more confident than he has a right to be.”That sounds like a criticism, but in golf, I think it’s a big compliment. Now, his golf ability is catching up to his confidence, and if he can continue that development, he could become a great player.
MS: Your players are able to post low scores that are all close to each other. What has been the key to coaching a team that is so competitive from top to bottom?
DH: I feel like one of the most important things to teach kids in golf is to enjoy the competition, and I don’t want them to turn that off just because it is practice or team qualifying. Competing with teammates is great because you can start to develop the right attitude towards competition. I have been very fortunate to have seven kids that have competed for our top six spots all season long. I feel like that competition helps drive each player to be better.
MS: How important is it to have the state tournament so close to home at Cornell?
DH: I think it’s terrific, and I hope we can get local golf back to the point where we dominate like we did up until 12 years ago. Section IV was the top section 16 times, from 1973 to 2007, and we had 11 individual champs, including five from Tompkins County. It can be a great advantage to play close to home, but you have to have great players. I think we can get it back to that point, and I’m excited about the possibility of Dryden players being a part of that.
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