FRONT ROYAL — Senior Jackson Lynch had a message for his teammates as the James Wood golf team made its way home on the bus from Monday's season-opening tournament at Fauquier Springs Country Club in Warrenton.

"[I said] listen, we've got to come out on Wednesday and be in the 80s," Lynch said. "They came out and they did it. I'm really proud of these guys."

Two days after only two Colonels broke 90, all six James Wood golfers shot 86 or better to lead James Wood to sixth place out of 26 teams at the 18th annual Curly Licklider Invitational. Lynch led the way with a 79 for the lowest score relative to par (plus-7) among local golfers.

Lynch was James Wood's No. 1 seed, and the No. 1 and 2 seeds for each team played on the par-72 Red and Blue combination. Seeds 3 and 4 played on Blue and White nines and seeds 5 and 6 played on the White and Red nines, which are both par-71 combinations.

The Licklider is a unique tournament in which the scores for every participating golfer counts (up to six can compete for each team), and the Colonels were one of only three teams to have all six golfers shoot 86 or better. The typical high school competition only counts four out of six scores.

First-year school Independence won the tournament with a 460, nine strokes better than runner-up Heritage-Leesburg (469). Tuscarora's Michael Brennan, the 2019 VSGA Amateur champion, won the tournament with a 6-under 66, three strokes better than Independence's Mehrbaan Singh and Potomac Falls' Carter Morris (69 each). 

Other local schools participating besides James Wood were Handley (tied for 12th with a 523), Millbrook (19th with a 594), Sherando (21st with a 622) and Clarke County. The Eagles had four golfers on vacation and were one of four teams not to field a full lineup. Clarke County's best score was junior No. 1 Keith Dalton's 98.

Like Lynch, Handley senior Brennan Smith also shot a 79 Wednesday, but his was a plus-8 round since he was a No. 4 seed and played on the Blue and White Nines.

James Wood coach David Oates was pleased to see the whole team perform well at its home location. Lynch was followed by No. 2 Carson Baker and No. 5 Drew Johnson (80 each), No. 3 Ethan Russell (84), No. 6 Evan Peterman (85) and sophomore No. 4 Luke Davis (86). All but Davis are seniors.  

Oates was particularly happy about James Wood's four-player score of 323, since the four-score format is the focus for most of the year. That's a 26-stroke improvement from Monday's eight-team Class 4 Northwestern District mini tournament, in which the Colonels took third.

All eight district teams were back in action at Wednesday's Licklider, and James Wood had the second-best team score this time around. Only third-place Kettle Run, which won Monday's mini, had a lower four-player score (306) among Class 4 Northwestern teams. On its home course, Fauquier beat Wood by 17 strokes on Monday, but the Falcons' four-player score was four strokes worse than the Colonels' on Wednesday.

"At some point, we want to have a couple of scores in the 70s and a couple of scores in low 80s, so we were close to that," Oates said. "We're going in the right direction. I thought we might shoot a 330 today, so I'm happy with a 323.

"Obviously it's our home course, but we were much more comfortable today. We didn't start off particularly strong, but a lot of those kids really battled back."

Oates cited Lynch's performance as an excellent example of the Colonels' fortitude. Starting on the 430-yard par-4 Blue No. 5 in the shotgun start, Lynch was five over after three holes as a result of two double bogeys and one bogey.

"Be calm," said Lynch when asked what he told himself to get on track. "My coach told me it's a long day. I still had the Red to play, and I'm very confident playing the Red. I played the Red in two over, and then I had a couple of birdies, a bogey, and a par to finish up on the Blue."    

Lynch — who had four birdies in his round — said one of his better holes on Wednesday was his tap-in birdle from a few inches away after a 60-yard approach shot on the 346-yard, par-4 No. 8.

Lynch was excited when he was informed that he shot seven strokes better on Wednesday than he did in last year's Curly Licklider. He said the mental toughness he displayed Wednesday is the biggest improvement in his game this year. Lynch (stroke average of 84.5 last year) led the Colonels at Monday's tournament with an 82.

"If you put me on a course at this time last year and I was 5-over through three holes, I would have shot in the 90s. No doubt," Lynch said. "Being able to keep myself square and not blow up like I usually would in the past is probably the reason why I shot [a 79]."

Handley coach Troy Mezzatesta said Wednesday's performance was definitely an improvement from Monday's showing. The Judges' four-player score of 335 was 19 strokes better.

On Wednesday, he reminded his players that they're capable of doing a lot more.

"There's some light at the end of the tunnel compared to how we felt Monday," Mezzatesta said. "I told them all on Monday I felt like we were 10 to 15 strokes off our potential. Today I feel like we're about five to seven strokes off or potential. So we're getting there."

In addition to Smith, Handley was led by sophomore No. 3 Jack Thome (81) and seniors Braxton Duvall (No. 2, 87) and Cody Williams (No. 1, 88).

Smith said his best score last year was in the mid-80s. He shot a 90 on Monday.

"It feels good being a senior and being able to improve this much from last year, being the second tournament of the year," Smith said. "Seventy-nine felt good. The shots felt the way I wanted them to feel. My driving was strong, and putting."

Smith had two birdies. One was on the par-3, 188-yard No. 8 in which he made a 10-foot putt — that was his second hole — and also one on the 320-yard, par-4 Blue No. 3. Smith said Blue No. 8 was a big hole for him because he was able to make par with a two-putt after being 45 feet away from the hole. 

"I feel like I'm hitting it straighter than last year," said Smith when asked about his improvement. "I'm being more firm with chipping and putting to get the speeds right."

Smith said he feels his team is capable of getting one of the two Region 4C tournament spots that will be available at the district tournament on Sept. 23 at Fauquier Springs.

Kettle Run has already won the regular-season district championship and an automatic Region 4C tournament berth as a result of having the best finishes at the Monday's mini-tournament and Wednesday's Licklider. There originally was  supposed to be a second district mini on Friday in Culpeper that was also going to factor into the regular-season championship, but that was canceled last week. Culpeper switched athletic directors over the summer, and the school was unable to secure the necessary time to play at the Country Club of Culpeper.

Millbrook dropped 41 strokes off its four-player score from Monday. No. 1 Tyler McGuire (86) improved by 10 strokes and led the team in scoring, and No. 3 Austin Allamong improved by 15 strokes with an 89. 

Sherando was led by on Wednesday by senior No. 1 Parker Gregg's 84 two days after he led all local golfers with a 79. Fellow senior Ian Adams (No. 2) improved by 10 shots from Monday and shot a 90.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.com

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