A year ago, Brandon McCutchen made a solo trip to Stephenville for the regional golf tournament after the Paradise Panthers finished a distant third at the District 9-2A tournament.
This year, McCutchen will be heading farther south – with plenty of company as the Panthers play in the Class 2A University Interscholastic League state golf tournament. Paradise will be one of 12 teams vying for a state title Wednesday and Thursday at Roy Kizer Golf Course in Austin.
“This is the goal we set at the beginning of the season,” said Colton Horton.
Over the past year, the five members of Panthers team that also includes Lucas Heathington, Colton Wells and Hayden Barkley have dedicated themselves to the sport, spending hours at the course.
“I come here and spend six hours per day,” said Heathington, who gets out of class early.
The rest of the team joins him after class for a couple of hours of hitting balls or playing a few holes.
“They also play on the weekend,” said the Paradise coach Terry McCutchen. “They’ve really worked hard. We actually had 12 boys in the program this year. It’s a credit to all of them. They’ve made each other better.”
Barkley beat out a couple other players to earn the fifth spot on the squad.
“Hayden got more consistent at the end of the year,” the Paradise coach explained.
The Panthers started playing tournaments in the fall and by the spring started challenging Brock and some of the other top teams in the region.
Paradise finished second at the 9-2A tournament to earn a spot at regionals. At regionals, the Panthers fought their way into contention for a state spot. They were in second after the first round.
At the close of the second round, Terry McCutchen thought the team had a state spot in hand, but Whitesboro ended up tying the Panthers at 723.
“We were told, ‘Get your clubs, we’re going to a playoff,'” Heathington recalled.
Wells described the one-hole playoff with a state spot on the line as “nerve-wracking.”
He turned a birdie on his hole. Brandon McCutchen had a double-bogey, and Heathington a bogey. Horton sank a par putt, which turned out to be the winning shot, locking down the state berth.
“Everybody has a part. It’s not just one person. Everyone counts,” Heathington said.
As the lone senior, Heathington said it’s been fun playing with the younger guys and to get this opportunity to play for a title.
“It’s pretty special,” he said.
Off the course, the group enjoys giving each other a hard time and staying relaxed. Wells said they try to stay loose on the course.
“We just have fun and play,” he said. “We’re all pretty good friends.”
Horton leads the team in scoring average, despite not having as much length off the tee as Brandon McCutchen and some of the others. He fired rounds of 86 and 88 at regionals.
“I have a good short game,” he said. “I can’t hit greens. That’s why my short game is good.”
Playing on the state stage for the first time, the Panthers are hoping for two solid rounds and to make a respectable showing.
“We’re hoping for top five,” Heathington said.
That would be definitely worth the trip.