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Seniors 2020: Hilderbrand picked up golf late, but learned to excel as a top talent for Red Elephants
Gainesville's Zayne Hilderbrand watches his tee shot during a 2020 match. Photo courtesy Tiffany Hilderbrand.

Zayne Hilderbrand is resolute every time he gets on the golf course. 

Standing about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, this Gainesville High senior built his reputation on repetition and consistency. 

He has a powerful mind to go along with a confident demeanor when he’s playing. Hilderbrand puts it on his own shoulders when he makes a bad shot.

However, making solid contact with the ball is much more the norm.

The ball explodes off his club and has a strong game on the greens, to match.

And when Hilderbrand is at his best, he’s very hard to beat. 

“Zayne’s a tremendous competitor,” Gainesville golf coach Clay McDonald said. “He practices very hard.

“He’s solid and consistent in everything he does.”

During his three years and some change as a Red Elephants golfer, Hilderbrand left an indelible mark on a Red Elephants program with many elite talents who have gone through the program.

Hilderbrand was the Hall County champion, as a junior, in 2019. He also shot a blistering first-round 69 to pace Gainesville en route to a third-place finish at state in 2018. 

Hilderbrand also has a robust schedule with summer tours where he goes against some of the best talent.

Next year, he’ll continue his career playing in Brunswick at the College of Coastal Georgia, with plans of pursuing a degree in business. 

Hilderbrand’s final high school event was the Hall County championship March 10 at the Chattahoochee Golf Club, before sports went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He carded a second-place 74 for first-place Gainesville.

“Zayne likes to win but everything he does is built around making the entire team better,” McDonald said. 

Still, his greatest memory is the teammates he walked the course with since arriving in 2017.

“You can’t substitute the time I spent on the course with my friends,” said Hilderbrand. 

He was not eligible to play in matches his freshman year after moving in from the Chestatee district, but still got the benefit of practicing with the Red Elephants and was immersed in the program’s culture.

It’s easy to imagine that Hilderbrand’s best golf is still ahead of him. He’s now got a few years competing under his belt. McDonald said Hilderbrand’s swing is simple but technically sound. 

The Red Elephants senior is also proficient with the putter.

And the potential for another growth spurt will help add velocity to an already powerful swing.

Even with early success, Hilderbrand isn’t going to put things in cruise control. He’s able to thrive under the pressure of being solely responsible for his individual success and failure.

“Zayne’s the first one at the course and the last one to leave,” McDonald said.

After a long layoff from competition during the pandemic, Hilderbrand had the pleasure of getting back on the course during the Southeast Junior Golf Tour May 11-12 at his home course in Gainesville. 

There, he wrapped it up with a bogey-free, final-round 69 and was tied for sixth out of 144 players at even par after two days of play.

Whenever Zayne needs advice on the course, he looks to his father, Ronnie, who tells his son he knows how to play.

Hilderbrand said he thrives under pressure. 

The love of golf outweighed the thrill he received from playing middle infielder in baseball for most of his life growing up. 

Quickly, Hilderbrand’s talent was noticed, even though it was still raw, when he took lessons in the eighth grade. First, he took part in a golf camp at Chicopee Woods, Hilderbrand’s mother Tiffany said. 

Then, Zayne was able to take lessons for Chattahoochee golf director Rodger Hogan, who is also the father of one of Hilderbrand’s favorite former teammates, Ryan.

Today, Zayne’s golf game is much more fine-tuned than when he first started taking cuts on the course. 

He works virtually and talks regularly with a private swing coach based who resides in St. Simons Island. 

His choice to attend school at the NAIA-level College of Coastal Georgia was due to having a top-notch coaching staff, Hilderbrand said. 

“I feel like my future is bright,” Zayne said.

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