Standing on the third fairway at Golden Oaks Golf Club in Fleetwood with just two holes left to play in Tuesday’s PIAA East Region golf championship, Carlisle’s J.D. Hughes needed a minor miracle to stay at or below the 79 he was going to need to qualify for the Class AAA state tournament.
When he rimmed out a four-foot par putt on No. 3 and was forced to settle for a bogey that left him at 78 with one hole to play, that minor miracle seemed even further out of reach.
But it came on the next hole in the form of a hole-in-one on No. 4 that put Hughes into a four-way tie for the final state qualifying spot.
After a six-hole playoff, Hughes — who finished 7-over on the day — outlasted Lower Dauphin’s Chad Stine, claiming the final qualifying spot and becoming the first Thundering Herd golfer in program history to earn a bid to the state tournament.
“It was literally the most bizarre thing,” Hughes said. “I’m still trying to get my head around exactly what happened. I was being very aggressive on the last few holes.”
Forgive Hughes if his performance over the last 10 holes, including the playoff, was a bit shocking. It came after a round that was anything but spectacular and included four double-bogeys and seven bogeys.
His eagle on 13 was an anomaly during an otherwise disappointing day — until he got down to his last four holes.
He birdied one and two, followed with the bogey on three, before sinking the first hole-in-one of his career.
“It was awesome,” Hughes said. “After all the frustration the entire day, for something like that was pretty cool.”
Stine didn’t make it any easier on Hughes from that point though, keeping pace through the first five playoff holes before failing to match Hughes’ birdie on 18.
The tournament started with Hughes succumbing to the inconsistent play that’s plagued him at times throughout his career. It ended with a comeback he hopes can be a springboard to a strong performance at states.
“My entire life that I’ve played golf, my Achilles heel would be the consistency part,” Hughes said. “I will have times when I play very well and can play with anybody, and then times when I don’t have it. One of the signs of being a good golfer is having a bad day and still ending at 75. I know if I play two good days (at states), I can play with these guys.”
On the girls side, Boiling Springs’ Rebecca Graham also needed a playoff to claim the final spot in the Class AA tournament. She finished in a three-way tie for the final spot in the Class AA girls tournament with a 26-over 98, but beat out Loyalsock Township’s Taylor Daskivich and North Schuylkill’s Justine Paul for the final qualifying spot.
Both Hughes and Graham will play in the PIAA individual championships beginning Monday, Oct. 22 at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York.
Cumberland Valley’s Evan Overcash finished two strokes off the cut, with a 9-over 81.
Manheim Township’s Craig Hornberger (-3) won the Class AAA boys regional championship, while Mt. Calvary Christian’s Noah Firestone (+3) beat out Wyomissing’s Evan Thornoton for the Class AA boys title.
In Class AAA girls, Radnor’s Jamie Susanin (+3) won the championship, while Holy Cross’ Selena Cerra (+10) won in Class AA.