Pinelands Regional Golfers Repeat Undefeated Season as Connor Carney Caps Career

By DAVID BIGGY | May 22, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands senior golfer Connor Carney reacts to his birdie putt on the ninth hole at Sea Oaks as the Wildcats repeated an undefeated season on May 17.

Little Egg Harbor Township — As he waited for the others to complete their putts, Connor Carney crouched down on the ninth green at Sea Oaks Golf Club and solemnly glared toward the hole. It wasn’t a look of concern. His putt amounted to only a few yards. Instead, it was one of reflection.

“On the last hole, there definitely were a lot of emotions going on there,” said Carney, who played the final match of his career as the Pinelands Regional High School golf team scored a 162-180 victory over Barnegat on May 17, wrapping up a second straight undefeated season in the process.

“I still remember the first scrimmage I played in, against Southern, when I was a freshman. Everybody was telling me about how great Southern was, and they were going to get in my head and all kinds of stuff. I went out and shot a 39. It was the best feeling ever, at the time. Now, today, I’m wrapping up my career, playing in my last match, and it’s a bit sad. But it’s all been incredible.”

It’s worth noting Connor didn’t squander the opportunity for a big finish. After he lined up the putt, he knocked it down with one more stroke, carding the only birdie in his round of 44.

“I didn’t have my best score today, but that was a great way to finish,” he said. “I was glad to put that one down for birdie.”

The Wildcats’ only senior on the roster didn’t start off well, racking up a 7 on the par-5 first hole. But he got into a little better groove during the next few holes, carding a par on the 310-yard third hole. Still, he struggled with his putts through the middle of the front nine and even ended up with a double bogey on the par-4 fifth hole before going 1 over par on the sixth, seventh and eighth.

On the final hole of his last regular-season match, Carney delivered a tee shot to the right of the fairway, then dropped the ball onto the green two shots later, some 10 feet from the cup. After Connor put down his last putt at Sea Oaks, coach James Becker, who opted to play alongside the young man who has driven the program for the past few years for his final contest, gave him a lengthy hug.

“I wanted to play with him for his last match in his storied career,” Becker said. “We went 49-11 with him in the lineup, and he’s led us to a couple of big seasons the last two years. Connor showed great leadership again this season, and that really helped us with the younger players coming up.”

As the Wildcats cruised to their second straight 14-0 season, Nate Szwed also birdied the ninth hole to finish with a 1-over-par 37, while Austin Carney  fired a 2-over-par 38, and David Laney carded a 43.

“Going 28-0 in two seasons is unheard of,” said Connor, who is headed for Ocean County College and likely Stockton University afterward as he works toward a degree in business management. “The run we went on was amazing. We had a lot of younger guys who have grown into really great players, and they’re going to have big things ahead of them. It’s been really cool watching them all grow as players.

“These last four years have been the most incredible years of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

Of course, Carney’s career didn’t officially end until May 20, when he competed in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. He shot an 87 at Hopewell Valley Country Club, finishing amid the middle of the field. He earned the spot in the season finale by firing a 78 in last week’s South Jersey sectional tournament.

“With the way I was hitting the ball off the tee, I was really happy with a 78,” he said. “I could have shot way better if I had gotten the ball off the tee a bit better. But, hey ... a 78 in the sectional tournament and going to the Tournament of Champions for the first time is something I’ll take any day.”

As for Barnegat, with the loss to Pinelands the Bengals ended up 8-8 for the season, as they graduate their entire starting five – Kyle Smith, Nick Spitz, Matt Kulpa, Owen McAvoy and James Davenport.

“We all had a lot of fun this season,” McAvoy said. “Last year, we qualified for the state tournament, so we really wanted to do that again this season, and we did. We finished third in our division, and that was cool for us. But, really, being that we were all seniors, we really focused on having fun together. We’ve been playing together for a few years now, and we really just wanted to enjoy our last season together.”

In the match of their careers, Smith fired a 41 to lead the Bengals, while Spitz carded a 44, Kulpa registered a 47 and McAvoy returned to the clubhouse with a 48.

— David Biggy

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