Durke Phillips didn't play his best round of golf at last week's Anne Arundel County championships at Eisenhower Golf Course -- his 87 kept him out of the top 10 -- but it was an uncharacteristic blip in an otherwise memorable season. The Old Mill junior averaged a nine-hole score of 38 during the team's five regular season matches, and in the pivotal District 5 championships at Ruggles Golf Course in Aberdeen, he fired a clutch 79 to qualify for Maryland state championships for the first time.
Phillips has honed his game -- and emerged as one of the county's top golfers -- despite being virtually blind in his left eye. He was born with a cataract, an incomplete eye lid and a cornea condition. But that didn't keep him from picking up a golf club at the age of 6 after watching his father, Dennis, hit golf balls in family's back yard.
"It happened right when I was born so I was used to it my whole life," Phillips said. "I don't make any changes because I don't know any different. It's always been the same since I've started playing."
On the greens, however, judging break and distance can be a challenge. "I kind of have trouble reading putts," Phillips said, especially on sloped greens.
Because of the sniper attacks, Monday's state championships were moved from University of Maryland Golf Course to Clustered Spires in Frederick and were trimmed from 36 holes to 18. Phillips has never played the course and said he will make every effort to get in a practice round. He also knows that the state title is up for grabs.
"Instead of a solid player going out there and shooting two decent rounds and putting it really low, now somebody could come out and shoot the best round of their life and win it," he said.
That player could be Phillips. This past summer, he shot a career-low 70 on two occasions at Marlton Country Club in Upper Marlboro. One of those rounds included his first-ever eagle -- a chip-in from off the green on a par 5. He also played on the Titleist Junior Tour, winning a tournament at Sparrows Point and finishing the summer season seventh in points in the 16-18 age group.
In order to contend at states, however, he will have to eliminate some errant approach shots that hampered him at counties. Arundel senior Brian Scott won the individual championship with a 3-over 74, one stroke ahead of Northeast senior Brian Carneal and two better than Severna Park junior Dave Murnane, both of whom were in Scott's foursome. Scott had a three-stroke lead on the back nine, but two late bogeys left him just one ahead heading to No. 18. Scott sunk a clutch 10-foot par putt there to claim the title.
South River, behind consistent scoring from Randy Sroka (78), Eddie Milligan (79), Nick Johnson (80) and Chris Wolf (83), won the team championship with 320, seven strokes ahead of Severna Park. Northeast (345) finished third. Ryan Moreland shot an 84 for South River, meaning five Seahawks finished among the top 10 individuals.
Stephanie Connelly of Northeast won the girls' title with a 78. Morgan Reich of Severna Park was second with an 86.
Phillips has played at No. 1 for Old Mill the past two seasons, and his recent commitment to the game has paid dividends this season. This summer, he played almost daily and was constantly hitting balls on the practice range.
"It doesn't matter if you have [just] a left eye, [just] a right eye or if you're blind in both eyes. As long as you get consistent in this game, you can be good," he said. "I like a challenge; I like working hard; and this has gotten me to where I am right now."