Hall County Championships
When: Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Chicopee Woods golf course, Gainesville
Clothed in the same tradition as the rest of his fellow Gainesville High golfers, Spencer Ralston is keeping his eyes and ears open for advice in his senior year.
He’s heard words of wisdom out of everybody from Gainesville's Tommy Aaron, winner of the 1973 Masters Tournament, to up and coming talent, like Lee McCoy, a Habersham Central graduate with amateur experience in three major professional tournaments.
“He’s as comfortable with sixth and seventh-grade as he is, 30 minutes later, with the older gentleman who are hoping to get a word with him,” said Bryson Worley, Ralston’s coach with the Red Elephants. “To have him in the locker room with his teammates, he’s phenomenal.”
Entering his final year at Gainesville High with one of the strongest resumes in the state, Ralston’s goals remain the same: To win an elusive state title. He’s still getting ribbed by his father, Mitch, who earned an individual state championship as a Red Elephant in 1981.
“He’ll joke about it to me, ‘let me know when you have that individual state title,’” said Spencer, with a laugh.
The University of Georgia signee already has the experience and the ability to make that a reality. He competed in his first U.S. Open sectional qualifier last May, is currently ranked No. 11 in Golfweek’s boys junior rankings, and has already set the school and state individual scoring record 63 (recorded twice).
Ever the perfectionist, Ralston said he wants to work on his short game to become more consistent as he helps the Red Elephants fight for a fourth straight Region 8-AAAAA team championship. After having competed with and against professionals at last year’s sectionals, Ralston sees the short game as being the line between good and great golfers.
“Once you get to a certain level, most guys can hit it consistently enough to compete,” said Ralston. “The guys who chip and putt consistently get it done compared to the guys that don’t.”
Any tweaks that Spencer makes to his game will be on his own volition. Ever since the senior officially signed his letter of intent last November to play for the Bulldogs, Ralston said the Georgia coaching staff has been “laid back” on his development. Bulldogs coach Chris Haack and associate head coach Jim Douglas have often visited Ralston and his future freshman classmates during junior events, according to Ralston.
Worley, a good friend of Haack, said he tries to model the Gainesville program on collegiate-level teams, so his players will know what to expect at the next level.
“We don’t raise them to stay here,” said Worley. “We don’t want this to be the highlight of their lives. (Ralston) just needs to be the best player he can be. How he handles himself on and off the golf course, academics, traveling to tournaments, fine-tuning ball strikes, everything he’s already good at.”
Ralston, a three-time defending Hall County champion, says he still has a lot to learn. He wants to get better at managing his time ahead of college, so he can properly balance the strain of regular tournaments and workouts with a full course load.
Ralston said he always makes sure to listen to those who have been there and done that.
“When I was playing in the sectionals, I was trying to pick the guys’ brains, what they’ve done and how they’ve gone about doing it,” said Ralston. “It’s the little things to pick up along the way.”
Worley, who has coached Ralston since he was seven years old, said he expects the senior to adapt quickly to the change of pace, and believes Ralston will continue to build on his success as a Red Elephant.
“One like Spencer doesn’t come very often,” said Worley. “I equate it to Deshaun (Watson), Blake Sims, Michael Gettys. We’ve been so fortunate to have Spencer as a part of this program.”