Centennial senior golfer Mike McDonald spent countless hours this winter working on his putting and chipping in the basement of his Ellicott City home, hitting balls across blue carpet toward coins and plastic cups.
"I'd use those for holes and just hit ball after ball," McDonald said. "I worked on my game really hard because I knew heading into the spring season I was a contender, but I wanted to know if I could beat the best players in the county."
McDonald got his answer last week. Five years after taking up the sport, he won his first tournament -- the county championship -- on the second playoff hole at Turf Valley in Ellicott City.
McDonald finished regulation with an 11-over 82, tied with Howard's Kenny Kasmir, who made a 55-foot putt on the final hole, and Mount Hebron's Kyoo Hwang.
McDonald parred the first playoff hole, and Hwang extended the playoff when he dropped in a 45-foot chip shot for par. Kasmir was eliminated with a bogey.
"At that point, the shots Kenny and Kyoo had made were just incredible even by professional standards," said Craig Day, Turf Valley's club professional and also the county's high school golf coordinator. "This was one of the most exciting rounds of golf I had ever seen."
On a the second playoff hole -- a par-4, 390-yard hole that curved to the left -- McDonald recorded bogey but won the championship when Hwang missed a six-foot putt.
"That's one of the best rounds Mike's ever played, especially under the circumstances," Centennial Coach Paul Lingeman said. "When everything was on the line, he hit every shot he needed to make."
McDonald's triumph ended a high school athletic career that began with disappointment. McDonald was the third baseman for the school's junior varsity baseball team and was looking forward to playing varsity last spring when he injured his right (throwing) shoulder.
McDonald then turned his attention to the school's golf team. He did not qualify for last fall's state tournament, but on a sunny afternoon last week, he experienced the joy of winning a tournament.
"I knew how much Mike wanted to have a good season because of what he did this winter at home," said Nancy McDonald, Mike's mother. "He had so many golf clubs down there [in the basement] that you had to make sure you didn't trip over them."
"Mike played very solid out there in the county championships, and because he won, his name needs to be up there as one of the county's best players," Mount Hebron Coach Charlie Chilcote said.
McDonald isn't sure if he'll try to walk on to James Madison University's golf team this fall, but he'll always remember how his high school career ended.
"It was just an amazing season," said McDonald, whose team also won the regular season county title by going 11-1 to finish one match ahead of Howard. "I don't think I could have written a better story."