St. Anthony

St. Anthony Boys’ Golf Is Building A Legacy

Parker James is a hockey player, Alex Palacio is a football player, Phillip Smith was born with a heart defect and Chris McGuiness is an assistant principal of Mission & Catholic Identity. One thing they have in common is St. Anthony High boys’ golf.

The Saints won their first Santa Fe League title last season, and are 11-0 this season with aspirations for postseason improvement.

“Three years ago, we had one decent golfer and a bunch of guys who didn’t know how to play,” McGuiness said. He is a St. Anthony alum who has been at the school since 2000. The school wasn’t able to start a golf program then, but Bob Segura and McGuinness put together a team of boys and girls four years ago.

“We were just trying to find kids to play that first year,” McGuiness said. “It was a lot of grip and swing mechanics work. Last year, we took it up a notch.”

After winning the league title, McGuiness got 15 qualified golfers onto to the varsity and junior varsity teams with a couple of talented underclassman making the future look bright.

“Success breeds success. All of a sudden everyone wants to play golf,” McGuiness said. “A lot of these guys have never played before, but they practice hard every day.”

McGuiness added that Phillip Smith is a big reason his team has such a solid work ethic. The senior was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, but he doesn’t let that slow him down. McGuiness said Smith will hit a bucket of balls at the driving range before school on every match day to perfect his already smooth swing.

“Basically my left ventricle is dead,” Smith said. “But I’m really lucky because a lot of kids with my same condition have trouble functioning in society.”

Smith tries to drink a bottle of water per hole and eat as many healthy snacks as he can during his rounds. The senior said he’s reached his ‘breaking point’ on the course, so he knows where it is.

“He’s a great leader and the one who wants to be challenged the most,” McGuiness said. “He doesn’t let guys slide by taking extra shots or playing extra balls in practice rounds. He says ‘you play it like you play it’.”

Smith, who transferred from St. John Bosco last year, is an honor roll student taking four advanced placement classes, and he wants to study biochemistry in college, where he hopes to walk onto a golf team.

That’s exactly what Parker James and Alex Palacio did at St. Anthony, and they went from walk ons to team captains. Palacio is a football first, and the senior was visiting local colleges last week. James is a nationally ranked ice hockey player who just came back from nationals in New Jersey. McGuiness said they have developed into his longest hitters.

“The natural athlete in (James) forces him to want to be the best,” McGuiness said. “So even though golf isn’t his number one sport, when he’s on the course, he’s all in.”

James said the biggest adjustment was going from a sport with a referee to a sport where everyone enforces the rules on themselves and each other. The honor system has created a tight bond between teammates who already got along very well.

“We have a lot of fun together,” McGuiness said. “They’re just like brothers. The more fun they’re having, the more they want to practice. The more they practice, the better they get.”

“We joke around way too much,” James said. “But we know when to turn it off and take it serious.”

St. Anthony practices and plays its home matches at the long and challenging Lakewood Country Club, and that’s forced the Saints to hold themselves to a high standard. For example, they shot a CIF qualifying score last month at a much easier course, but felt they didn’t perform as well as they should have.

“The whole team went to the range and hit about 150 balls each after the match,” McGuiness said. “They want to keep getting better, and that success and winning is infectious.”

The top four Saints have each been the low finisher of a round this season, and sophomore Taylor Griffiths leads a talented group of underclassman that includes sophomores Cade Rehling, Jack Lopez and Nick Sparks and freshman Jacob Organista. Rehligh has gone from the No. 7 player to the No. 5 player in one year of golf. Lopez is a former baseball player, and Sparks is working his way back after suffering a back injury during soccer season.

“It’s definitely really cool to be a part of,” Griffiths said. “For the rest of my life, I can tell all of my buddies that I helped start the team at St. Anthony.”

The Saints have two regular season matches left before the league individual tournament starts on May 1.

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JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.
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