When it was all over, Donnie Shin could smile, satisfied that he turned what could have been a disastrous round of golf into a dazzling final 15 holes at the Howard County golf championships last week at the Timbers of Troy Golf Club.
"I wasn't warmed up the first nine holes," said the Oakland Mills junior, a native of Korea who came to the United States from Seoul four years ago and is in his first year on the golf team. "After that I started hitting better, putting better. I got myself settled down. I calmed down, and that's where I got a lot of birdies."
Shin bogeyed the first hole, a par 4, made triple bogey on the par-5 second hole and then struggled to another bogey at the par-4 third. With the regular-season Stableford scoring system (par-three points; birdie-four, bogey-two) used for the county championship, Shin could have had nine points or more when he headed to the tee at No. 4.
After all, this was the same golfer who set the nine-hole scoring record (31 points) several weeks earlier with a 4-under 32. Instead, he had just four points.
Right then, he decided he was just going for par. Birdies only got him bogeys, he said.
The strategy worked. From No. 4 on, Shin didn't make a bogey, carded four birdies on the back nine and finished with 53 points (1-under par 71), winning the tournament over Centennial sophomore Chris Wellde, who had 49.
"I didn't lose my confidence," said Shin, who began playing golf in Korea seven years ago. "I was happy about 53 [points]. I was happy I came back. At first I thought I couldn't do it [win the match]. I mean, 5-over after three, think about that?"
Shin's most impressive birdie came at No. 17, a par 5. He hit his drive more than 290 yards and had 200 yards left to reach the green in two. His 4-iron landed 15 feet from the hole, and although he missed the eagle putt, he holed his fourth birdie of the day.
The girls' winner, Leslie Walker, also hit a big birdie putt on No. 17. The Atholton senior and four-year golfer played the par 5 in three shots, nestling a pitching wedge from 92 yards to within 20 feet. Walker, who started her round on No. 18 (making the 17th her final hole of the match), sank the putt for a four-point birdie. That putt turned out to be the title clincher as her 44 points edged Centennial's Audra McShane by one.
"The greens were really slow, so wet you could see the line of the putt [left by the water] from the people before. It was hard for me because I don't hit it that far, and I was getting no roll [in the fairway]. [The rain] made the course really long," said Walker, who last spring was among those who testified before the County Council in an effort to get high school golf in Howard restored to varsity status. It helped -- golf this season was elevated to varsity for the first time since 1993-94.
Note: Ten Howard County golfers qualified for the Maryland state championships by posting solid scores at the 18-hole District 5 tournament Monday at Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville.
Shin was the District 5 medalist with a 1-under par 70, winning the event by five strokes over Glenelg senior Andrew Gotschall. Kyoo Hwang from Mount Hebron finished third with 76, and Wellde tied for fourth with 77. Also qualifying for the Oct. 24 and 25 state championships at the University of Maryland Golf Course were Justin Fabling of River Hill (79), Sparsh Mehta of Centennial (81) and Jarred Fernandez of Wilde Lake (81).
On the girls' side, Walker took second with 80. McShane (88) and Mount Hebron's Suh Hwang (92) also qualified for states.
Glenelg qualified as a team by winning the 1A/2A team title with a four-man score of 338. River Hill qualified in class 3A/4A by finishing second to Severna Park with 332.