The Signal Mountain boys were about as good as it gets on the golf course during Tennessee's 2019 high school season.
No one in the TSSAA Division I Small Class could dethrone the Eagles, who not only won their second straight state championship but did not lose a match or tournament all season as they took down all 56 teams they competed against — an impressive list that included the likes of Baylor, McCallie, Briarcrest, Ensworth, Farragut, Montgomery Bell Academy and Science Hill.
Signal Mountain shot under-par team scores quite often during a regular season in which it became the first public school program to win the annual City Prep tournament at Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. At the state tournament, the Eagles improved on their 2018 score by 16 strokes and set a state record with their 67-stroke margin of victory at WillowBrook Golf Club in Manchester.
While the storybook season will remain forever memorable to them, the Eagles are excited about writing a new chapter as they chase a three-peat. Foster Wood and Ben Seay led the charge last year but are now preparing to play for Rhodes College in Memphis and nearby Lee University, respectively, so it will be up to others to take on leadership roles.
High school golf season begins Monday in Tennessee, and it will be the first TSSAA sport to return to competition since the coronavirus pandemic shut down teams in mid-March.
"Last year we had eight players who could have been top five, and they all made for a special season," Signal Mountain golf coach Rodney Mitchell said. "We hope we have the same success that we had last year, but nobody expects to repeat 56-0. We have a great group of kids again who are strong golfers. With Beck Lewis, Benjamin Burns, Carson Johnson and Peyton Ogle leading the way, we expect to be really competitive again."
Burns has finished in the top 10 at the state tournament all three seasons with the Eagles, while Lewis finished eighth at state and last year became the youngest golfer to ever win the club championship at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.
The list of accomplishments during one of the most dominant golf seasons in state history even included two finishes ahead of Ensworth, which went on to win the Division II-AA title by shooting 2 over par as a team. With Signal Mountain returning four of its top six players, the expectations remain substantial.
"We all love to practice and love the sport of golf," said Burns, whose older sister Bethany recently won the city women's golf championship at Black Creek Club with a final-round comeback. "It's been fun playing this summer and hearing other golfers say, 'You guys were loaded last year.'
"For a public school to do what we did last season is huge. We were all clicking at the right time and had lots of players who could shoot par or better on any given day."
The Eagles will try to repeat at the City Prep on Sept. 9 at Bear Trace, and they hope the season includes another grand finale at their state tournament on Sept. 29-30.
"Carson has played some really great golf this summer and is going to be a strong leader with the other three seniors who have all played good golf since middle school together," Mitchell said. "We have a lot of talented golfers. Peyton is just a sophomore, but he has earned a lot of respect around the state already. Last year we played in the WillowBrook Invitational, and he and Benjamin tied for first at 2 under par."
Former Eagles standout Wood, who closed his Signal Mountain career by tying for fourth at state, got back on the course Sunday with some of his old teammates who will look to carry on the legacy he and others helped create.
"Last year was a special season," Burns said. "There is no lack of motivation. As long as we play our game and stay focused, we should be good."