Golf was predictably the first outdoor sports activity to return after the COVID-19 shutdowns because of its inherent social distancing, and patrons flocked back to the local courses to play with new rules like having the pins drilled into the cup.
That’s great news for the weekend warriors but it’s made life more difficult for Long Beach high school golf teams who haven’t been able to come together for team practices because of limited tee times.
“With all the practice greens being closed and the driving range constantly full, it’s been difficult to practice,” Millikan coach Robert Tomlin said. “The good thing is that golf is a sport that players can practice individually on their own time.”
The boys’ and girls’ seasons will be scheduled simultaneously for the next two months. The Moore League schedule starts April 13 when Wilson and Millikan face off at Recreation Park Golf Course. Long Beach Poly and Lakewood will be at Skylinks Golf Course while Jordan and Cabrillo compete at Recreation Park 9 Golf Course.
Wilson is once again the defending Moore League champions on the boys’ and girls’ side, and the Bruins will be playing with heavy hearts this season after the sudden passing of coach Kurt Holmes in December. Wilson athletic director Jeff Evans is returning to coach both teams again.
“He was a friend and just a good guy who was always there for me, for colleagues and for students,” Evans said. “He would go out of his way to help kids. If they didn’t have lunch he always had snacks in his classroom for them. He’d open his room at lunch and it was always a happy place. I don’t know a kid who would have anything bad to say about him.”
Holmes started helping Evans grow the Wilson girls’ junior varsity golf team in 2009, and took over the entire golf program last year.
“He adored his family and he cared about his students like they were his family,” Kurt’s brother Keith Holmes said. “He always talked about them like they were his kids. They meant the world to him.”
Evans said getting his 38 golfers in the program on the golf course has been a challenge, but he’s confident his top returners can lead the way. The girls’ team captain is junior Emi Sverduk, who won the 2018 individual league title, and was the runnerup last season.
“Emi is a great leader, and really has done a great job keeping the girls together through this pandemic and the unfortunate passing of Coach Holmes,” Evans said. “She is a solid player and is currently leading our team in scoring average at the early point of the season.”
Sverduk finished behind sophomore Alyson Sor (pictured) at the individual league tournament last season, and Sor is back after having an incredible summer on the local SCPGA Junior Tour. She won consecutive Toyota Tour Cup tournaments in August. Sor and Sverduk will likely battle it out again for the league title at the end of May.
The Wilson boys’ squad is led by captain Matthew Schafer who also had success on the SCPGA Junior Tour. His impressive all around game has him poised as the favorite to win the league title, and he’s committed to play college golf at Cal State Fullerton. His older brother, Tyler Schafer, is a former league champion who currently plays at Long Beach State.
Sophomore Ky Stopp, senior Peter Vos and sophomore Jet Adame are key returners for Evans, and he’s also excited about the freshman duo of Bryson Barnes and Luke Griffin.
“Winning the Moore League and having one of our golfers bring home the league individual title would be on our list of goals, however, I would also consider it a success that we are simply playing competition again as the players are all excited to be back on the golf course again getting to play together,” Evans added.
At Millikan, the Rams have a roster full of experience. The boys’ have their entire varsity team returning and the girls’ roster is all seniors. That has coach Tomlin adjusting his exceptions.
“I’m looking forward to the new CIF post season format that will give more teams a shot at winning a regional title instead of, as in the past, where only the top three or four teams out of 20 at each regional being the only ones with a legitimate chance of winning,” Tomlin said.
The Millikan boys are led by senior team captains Spencer Salcedo and Ethan Nash. The other key returners are juniors Josh Balogh, Ethan Caspers, Nolan Reyes and Jerome Ruaux. Sophomores like Jake Cammarata didn’t get to compete last year, so this will be their first season of varsity golf.
The Millikan girls are also led by a pair of senior captains, Olivia Hibson and Kyla Foster. They’ll be joined by seniors Emma Ashcraft, Allison Kaho, Ava Ashcraft and Ivy Kealoha. Sophomore Sydney Guevara and freshman Monique Thomas are the key newcomers.
Long Beach Poly has also struggled to get consistent practice rounds in, and coach Bill Dodge was waking up at midnight to make sure he could be first to get online and reserve times.
The Jackrabbits have a good mix of returning experience and exciting young talent on both boys’ and girls’ teams. The Poly girls’ team captains are senior Alex Lara and freshman Kate Montemayor, who Dodge called his top golfer. Kiaya Irvin is another key returner, and Madison Williams adds to a strong freshman class.
“All league matches are important since now league finish is what is used to determine CIF-bound teams,” Dodge said. “The Millikan girls’ match will be the most important. There are only four CIF divisions for girls’ golf and most likely second place will get in.”
The Poly boys’ team captains are seniors Kole Kikuta and Henry Dearborn. Senior Dylan Valley and sophomores Theo Pruitt and Shane Kikuta are also back. Freshman Nathan Brava-Partain and Quinn Van Wagner are key newcomers.
At Lakewood, coach Tom Busch is dealing with low turnout due to a variety of reasons.
“Our numbers were down before the pandemic and now we are on life support,” Busch said. “I haven’t been able to work with the kids much at all since last March… Some went on their own but the majority hadn’t done anything golf related for over a year.”
Samantha Vong, Emmiyah Easley, Samantha Holdridge, Amy Vo and Michelle Nhem are all returning for the Lancers on the girls’ team. Andrew McCart, Vevan Howard, Ethan Figueroa, Ryan Lavoie and Zach Paige will be joined by Carter Adams and Jordan Metzger-Dixon, who are the exciting newcomers on the boys’ team.
“No match stands out as more important than any other because honestly we didn’t think we would even be having a season a few weeks ago and I’m not really sure how it’s all going to work out,” Busch added.
Cabrillo will be competing as a co-ed team because of low turnout and coach Blake Dorman wants his newly formed squad to learn from their competition.
“The Moore League is so strong in golf and that helps our young golfers learn how the game is played,” Dorman said. “I teach them to watch the other team and how they play and conduct themselves on the golf course.”
Norman said freshman Santos Merito-Madrid has a lot of potential with a very natural swing that’s quickly improving. Senior Natalia Ramirez and junior Ashley Flores are exciting newcomers as well. The only returner is sophomore Kelvin Cruz.
The St. Anthony boys’ golf program is ready to extend its four-year unbeaten streak and win a fourth consecutive league title. The Saints will compete in the Camino Real league, and coach Chris McGuiness said their top competition will be Bishop Montgomery, Lasalle and Bishop Amat.
The Saints lost six players from last season but senior captain Jacob Organista is back for his fourth year at the varsity level. Junior Luke Lopez is also a returner who has been consistent for St. Anthony, and freshman Ethan Schwichtenberg is an exciting newcomer because of his high golf IQ. The starting lineup will also feature seniors Jake Hunter and Jonathan Cerniaz and sophomore Gavin Lane.