There’s a simple explanation for why Ryan Davidson didn’t give a more enthusiastic reaction Tuesday to draining a short putt to claim the Class 7A individual state championship.
The Red Elephants’ senior didn’t know, for sure, that he was one stroke clear of his nearest competitor after shooting back-to-back rounds of 2-under par 70 at the Chattahoochee Golf Club in Gainesville.
“I knew it was close when I got to the green because a couple of our guys were telling me to watch my speed on the putt,” Davidson said.
Still, he took time to celebrate with his teammates, family and friends once it became solidified when the scorecards were tallied and signed.
Davidson was a bit emotional, too, knowing it was his final match with a close-knit group of Gainesville seniors.
“(Winning state) is the best and the worst feeling,” he said. “I’m so grateful to be part of such a special group of guys on this team. But, yes, I’m happy to go out on a good note.”
State runner-up Gainesville’s four best scores combined for a two-day total of 21-over par, 15 shots behind state champion Milton.
Red Elephants freshman Henry Kopydlowski had rounds of 72 and 76 to finish tied for 10th in the individual standings at 4-over par.
“I’m super proud of the guys,” Gainesville coach Cameron Millholland said. “They wanted to win, but Milton is tough. They’re always one of the better teams in the state.”
For Davidson, it was the final tournament victory and most important in his four-year career with the Red Elephants.
The individual state champion took the lead with a birdie on No. 16 and saved par on No. 17 to keep the one-shot lead over Milton’s Rahul Rajendran, who took second after saving par with a long downhill putt from behind the green on the final hole.
Not knowing for sure he was in the lead by one stroke on the final hole, Davidson did what he does best: stuck to his plan, which included a tee shot right down the middle of the fairway, then an uphill second shot that landed on the left side of the green. Davidson rolled his first putt up to about a foot from the cup.
After the other two players in his group finished out, Davidson made the winning shot — then found out he was a state champion.
“I’m super proud of him,” Millholland said. “He’s been busting his butt the last few months and he’s playing red-hot right now.”
With a close battle shaping up for the title after Day 1, Davidson knew it was his task to not make any mental errors on his second trip around the course at the state meet.
Especially, since it’s Davidson’s home course that he’s been playing with his teammates for years.
“I was playing worry-free golf,” Davidson said. “Point A to point B, trying to hit the fat part of the fairways.”
Davidson was pleased to make birdie on both par 5s on the back nine.
Once the lead was in hand, he wasn’t about to let it go.
After Davidson drove it on the green in two shots on No. 18, Rajendran hit his fairway shot on the same hole into the greenside bunker, leaving a very tricky third shot.
He punched it out of the sand, then made the long birdie for a two-day total of 3-under par (141).
On Day 1, Davidson set the tone for his victory with a run of four straight birdies on the back nine, helping Gainesville establish a three-shot lead in the team standings.
He followed with a pair of bogeys, which is why he finished the first round with a 70.
Following a solid first round, Gainesville’s coach knew that his senior leader would be right in the thick of things for the individual championship.
“Ryan’s a back-nine kind of guy,” Millholland said. “If it’s ever close, I expect him to come out on top.