South Xtra: Upper St. Clair, Engel enjoy days in sun

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As he prepared to play the 18th hole on the second day of the PIAA Class AAA Boys Golf Individual Championship, Upper St. Clair senior Grant Engel had a modest goal.

"I just wanted to have a 72 or a 73 and finish among the top three," the 17-year-old said.

Engel accomplished his first goal as his second-round score of 73 coupled with his first-day total of 74 allowed him to finish with a 5-over-par total of 147.

But second or third? No, it turned out better than that.

Because he managed to stay out of trouble by parring the last hole, Engel came from behind and earned a two-stroke victory over Andrew Wilner when the Conestoga High junior triple-bogeyed the final hole to finish with a total of 149.

The round didn't have a promising start for Engel as Wilner birdied three of the first five holes, and was five strokes ahead with 13 holes to play.

But Engel who cut the deficit to just one stroke heading into the final hole, saw Wilner's misfortunes unfold right in front of him as they were playing in the same group.

With a lake fronting the 18th hole, Engel was amazed with what he saw.

"When Andrew hit his second shot into the water, and I put my second shot on the green, it was a huge change of events. He bladed his shot with whatever club he used, and both of our hearts just stopped. He went from maybe winning [the state title] to possibly me winning this."

Engel's coach, Todd Flynn, was equally amazed by how quickly things changed with his golfer turning from a gracious loser to an unexpected champion.

"Grant hit his tee shot into the pine trees, and [Wilner] hit his drive in the fairway," Flynn said. "And then the young man who was winning hit his second shot into the water."

Flynn hoped Engel's emotions wouldn't get the best of him, but they did briefly as he ran a putt from about 15 feet from the cup about 10 feet past the hole.

"But he came back, and drilled the par putt," Flynn said. "He was doing that all day, making putts from 6 to 20 feet. He just ground down his opponents."

As exciting as that was, Engel and his teammates still had plenty of work ahead of them as the three-stroke loss from two years earlier in the team championship was in the back of their minds. In 2011, the format was a two-day tournament, and Upper St. Clair led after the first day. A year ago, the Panthers didn't even make it to the WPIAL Class AAA team championship as they were bounced out in the semifinals.

Engel said he was able to get into "team mode" not long after he accepted his individual championship trophy.

"I did my part individually, and now it was time to help the team win that title," he said.

He had plenty of help accomplishing that goal.

Notre Dame recruit Thomas Steve shot an even-par round of 71. The Panthers' other three players who counted in the team score, all shot well. Engel had a 75, while Corey Wilding and Patrick McDonnell shot 77 and 79, respectively. The fifth member of the group, senior Nelson Zacur, shot an 86.

"We knew we had to play our game, and if we did that, we had a chance," Engel said. "No one wanted to finish second again because there was no next year for us. We wanted to do it for Coach Flynn because he's been a great coach for the last three years, and he deserved to have a state championship team."

It was a week Flynn won't soon forget.

"I have two individual champions and a team champion," he said. "I was really happy that Thomas Steve had the low score in the team event as he's been our leader all year.

"This was a four-step process," he continued. "We wanted to win the section, qualify for the WPIAL, win the WPIAL, and then win the state title. Grant winning the [PIAA] individual championship was step three-and-a-half. [The team championship] was a thing of beauty. No one took a big number."

Engel said no college has seriously recruited him.

"It all depends on the college coaches," he said. "As of right now, no one knows who I am."

With the PIAA individual championships in his pocket, and his playing a huge role in the Panthers' team championship, that likely will change.

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