ROWLAND — The opening hole of the NCHSAA 1A Mideast golf regional at Kerr Lake Country Club started to give James Locklear dèjá vu from last season as Zachary Brayboy opened his round with a double bogey, just like he did in 2017.
The difference this year for the South Robeson junior is the mental toughness he has built since his season ended last year at regionals.
“He realized that you still can mess up and have a good round. He found that out in the regionals when he double bogeyed the first hole,” Locklear said.
After dropping two shots on the first hole on Monday, Brayboy finished his round better than it started to shoot an 86, finish in a tie for ninth to make him South Robeson’s first golfer to qualify for the state championship, and the only boys golf state qualifier in the county this year.
“I knew Zachary had the ability to advance from the regional and he started off last year and had a couple bad holes and couldn’t recover from that,” Locklear said. “It showed to me then that he concentrated on his focus to play the next shot and the next hole.”
While this season’s Brayboy made a turnaround after the bad start, the same version of him a year ago would’ve failed to get refocused for the final 17 holes.
“I would get a bad hole and keep that shot in my head and keep doing bad and never recover,” Brayboy said.
Brayboy plays the Red Fox course at Foxfire Golf and Resort on Monday and Tuesday in the 1A state championship. He tees off Monday at 10:15 with Beau Studebaker of East Carteret and Jonah Whitman from Rosman.
“It makes me feel good because there’s been a lot of golfers and I’m the first one to go from the school,” Brayboy said. “It’s been my mental game (that’s been the difference). I can recover after I’ve done bad and just put the hole behind me.”
Once getting off the course at Kerr Lake Country Club to see that his season would continue for another week, Brayboy was ready to head from Henderson to Foxfire right then.
“I was just excited. I was ready to go play right then,” Brayboy said. “Jump right into it.”
Brayboy picked up golf more than three years ago when his older sister, Leslie, first started the game. He credits the help of Locklear for where his game is now.
“The skill level has always been there. He would lose focus when he had a bad hole or had a few bad shots and couldn’t get it back,” the ninth-year coach said. “We began working on that on the driving range to concentrate here and carry it to the golf course. He started doing that and his scores started dropping real quick.”
In the week since shooting 14 over at regionals, Brayboy knows what area he needs to focus on heading into Monday.
“I know I could’ve done better. I just made a lot of mistakes on the greens,” Brayboy said. “I know a lot of mistakes that I made with my short game and a couple of strokes I could’ve saved on the greens. But my driving and my irons looked pretty good yesterday. I’ve been trying to work on my chipping and putting.”
While being more focused has been a key area this season, being the only player on the range still golfing with another goal in mind has helped direct that focus even more on the range at Fairmont Golf Club.
“I can just focus more on me staying out here,” Brayboy said.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.