COVINGTON, Ga. — Some say golf is not a team sport. But don’t tell that to Eastside’s Landon Farill and Griffin Autry.
The duo is part of an Eagles’ boys golf team that’s off to an undefeated start, despite playing some tough early competition and contending with fickle Mother Nature who can’t seem to decide if it’s winter or spring.
And as you hear them talk about their hot start, the conversation sounds nothing like anything you’d expect from a couple of individuals playing a so-called individual sport.
As Autry, a sophomore and Eastside’s No. 1 player, begins talking about what’s given the Eagles early-season success, Farill, a senior, chimes in — not to talk about himself, but to vouch for the fact that the younger Autry is deserving of his No. 1 status.
“This man came up here almost every day after school,” Farill said. “I remember his grandfather would pick him up after school, and he’d come up here and hit balls or do whatever to get better. I remember I saw him eighth grade, and he came here and shot a 34. So he was good even then.”
Autry sort of lowered his head a bit as his teammate lauded him, and then flashed an aw-shucks kind of smile before volleying the compliments back Farill’s way.
“I’ve got a good teammate over here too,” Autry said pointing back at Farill. “He can shoot it pretty well.”
That’s true for both of them. Eastside came into Friday with a perfect 6-0 mark, and both have been leading the way together.
In the team’s season-opening wins against Jackson, Autry shot a 37 while Farill and fellow senior Curtis Broadnax shot a 38 and 42 respectively. Since then, Eastside’s reeled off wins against Union Grove, Locust Grove and Spalding — each time with Autry and Farril pacing the bunch — but all the two golfers can talk about is how much better the collective has become, especially since last year.
“I don’t see any similarities, to be honest, from last year to this year,” Farill said. “Just because, for instance, we’ve had our No. 3 Wes Conner, he’s started getting serious about the game and he’s improved. Curtis has gotten a good bit better. I just see constant improvement all around. I think this team is the best it’s been.”
“Everybody’s actually starting to practice the way you should practice the way you should practice,” he said. “We’re coming out here and getting dedicated to the game, and it’s really coming along. We’ve come a long way, that’s for sure.”
Eastside has seen success before. With arguably the county’s richest high school golf tradition, Eastside head coach Jay Cawthon has seen some flat out solid golfers pass his way in the 12 years he’s headed the program.
But this team, even if void of some of those heavy hitters of yesteryear, may have a leg up on recent teams in the intangibles department, Cawthon says.
“I don’t know if we have a collective group as good as we’ve had in the past,” Cawthon said. “We had some really great teams back in 2008, 2009 2010. We came in top five in the state. But this group here, we’ve got some good golfers. And what’s more, they’re a great group to work with. They work all the time. I don’t have to get on to them. Their personalities, they’re just a really great group of kids.”
Cawthon says he believes they’re battle tested enough to make a deeper run in the state tournament this year.
Last year, Eastside came in “dead last,” in the words of Autry, out of 16 teams. But Cawthon believes that if given the chance to make the field of 16 again, his bunch won’t repeat its 2017 season fate.
“It’s experience,” Cawthon said. “They’ve experienced state. I think the year or two before, we didn’t make it to state for the first time as a team in 10 years. But last year they made it and got to see that it’s a whole different stage at state. Lots of people are watching you, especially on that first tee. The competition is out of this world.”
That includes some private school powerhouses in Eastside’s area — schools such as Marist which won five straight state championships (2012-2016) before giving way to Columbus last year.
Eastside’s got lofty goals, though. Namely finishing top 10 or top 5 in state after qualifying by more than just the skin of its teeth.
“You need to get fourth in your area and shoot a 340,” Cawthon said. “Last year we shot 339.”
But Farill says this year’s squad is resolute and more honed in than at any other time he can remember. He made it to state individually that year that the rest of the team whiffed on the opportunity. And while he appreciated the experience, he said he would much rather go with company this time.
“Of course I’ve made it a goal to win state or win region myself,” he said. “But now, I want it to be a team goal. We want the entire team to make it so that way the program can experience it and build on it and become even better next year.”
Said Autry: “I’d like to make it myself too, but I’d like my team to come along with me. It’s a much better experience when we’re in it together.”
And Cawthon believes he has the right mix of new blood and seasoned talent to make it happen.
“I’ve got four seniors,” he said. “Three that have been with me four years. Plus we’ve got Griffin. And for the seniors, knowing this is their last year, they’ve talked about it — wanting to grind and do good things this senior year.
“I’ve got confidence in them and they have confidence in themselves.”