South Xtra: It's second silver medal for Peters senior
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Tommy Nettles confesses to being angry and frustrated after finishing second in the 2011 and 2012 PIAA individual golf championships at Heritage Hills Resort near York.
Nettles' most recent runner-up finish occurred last week when his 2-over-par 144 landed this senior at Peters Township High School one stroke behind the championship total recorded by Manheim Township senior Craig Hornberger.
"Both times, initially, I was upset," he said of finishing second behind Hornberger in this year's Class AAA tournament and one stroke behind West Allegheny's Garrett Browning in the 2011 Division I championship. The PIAA changed the classification from Division I to Class AAA this year.
"But when you look at [the results] and give it some perspective, you can see it was a pretty remarkable accomplishment," said Nettles, 17, who resides in the McMurray section of Peters. "It showed that I had consistency and was in contention both years, and I look upon it as an incredible learning experience."
A year ago, Nettles said, he took more notice of the accomplishments of competitors.
"I was caught up in what they were doing, and I was able to learn from that," he said. "This year I was more focused on my game for the entire tournament. I now know what the feelings are when you have that must-make putt, and I'll now know how to deal with those feelings for the rest of my life when I play tournament golf."
His maturity doesn't surprise Peters Township boys golf coach David Kuhn, who has been the school's varsity coach since 2000 and has been connected with the program since 1996.
"What's been impressive is that Tommy not only leads by what he says but also by example," Kuhn said. "He's never been one to shy away from leadership. There would be times when I noticed one of our players doing something that he shouldn't be doing, and I would be getting ready to say something. But I wouldn't have to say or do anything because Tommy was already on it.
"He's able to share the message of how things are done here because he watched his older brother, Chuck, play from 2003 to 2006 here, and he was our manager when he was in eighth grade," the Indians coach added.
On the tournament's second day, Nettles was 4-under-par after the first eight holes. Despite a double-bogey on the ninth hole, he was 4-under-par again after birdies on the 11th and 12th holes, and he stayed there after parring the 12th and 13th holes.
Then he got into trouble with bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes while Hornberger birdied the 14th and parred the 15th. Both parred the 16th and 17th holes and had bogeys on the last hole.
Nettles had some life as Hornberger hit his tee shot into the water on the 18th hole.
"[Hornberger] then hit his third shot about 180 yards, and it lands 15 feet from the hole," Kuhn said. "He knew he couldn't lay up and he made a great shot."
Kuhn would have loved to see Nettles walk away with at least one individual state championship, but he believes greater lessons have been learned.
"The easiest part of what we want as a team is to get to the top, and the hardest part is to stay there consistently," the coach said. "I think that translates to Tommy, too.
"We wanted him to win, but to finish second twice is a great accomplishment. I don't know of any other player who has done that [at the state championship level]. To be able to compete at that level consistently is difficult."
After a decade with the Peters Township golf program, Nettles knows those links and a high-caliber performance on the course will help him when he tees off for Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., next year in the Big South Conference.
"I'm a Peters Township Indian for life," he said. "I care for this program and for how the team is playing and how the older players are doing."
"Older players" care about him, too. Kuhn said there were 20 to 25 voicemail and text messages on his phone from current and former teammates when Nettles was competing at the state tournament.
Nettles said he will take that sense of camaraderie with him.
"I stay in touch with the older players, and I'll do the same with the younger ones," he said. "I'll have so many lifelong friends on this team, and all us want to see each other succeed. All of us have a passion for this program."