The Panthers “Big Three” look poised to make sure no one wearing a Palmyra polo is left out when it comes time for the state finals.
Noah Wilson and Laithan Sublette both qualified for the Missouri State High School Activities Association boys golf state championships a season ago.
But something didn’t feel quite right.
Something was still missing.
That something happened to be the rest of their teammates. The Palmyra boys golf team fell 10 strokes shy of advancing their entire team to the state finals.
It’s something neither hope to experience this season.
And the same goes for Lane Hammond.
With just one week ahead of district play, the Panthers “Big Three” look poised to make sure no one wearing a Palmyra polo has that same feeling as last year.
“Getting the entire team to state this year is the ultimate goal this season,” Hammond said. “It’s a big goal and it would mean a lot to all of us and the school.”
It would also mean a lot to Hammond.
Redemption of sorts, some would call it.
Last season as a junior, the powerful righty picked the absolute worst time to score his highest round of the season. He carded a 95 at the sectional level, which was 19 strokes more than in his practice round the day before. It is also what has fueled him into a more than successful senior season.
“Last year was just sad to see me crumble the way I did,” he admitted. “It was heartbreaking and I have definitely learned a lot and it’s made me into a better golfer this season.”
In addition to the added motivation of Hammond, the Panthers top three golfers also get motivation from each other.
The three have taken turns earning medalist each time the team has competed on the links this season. All three want to win, but they all see the bigger picture as well.
“There’s always that competitive side to kick each other’s butt,” three-time state finalist Wilson said. “But we also want each other to play good so we can win as a team.”
Wilson qualified for the state finals as a freshman and finished 58th. The next year he moved up to 12th, before a tied-for-fourth place last season.
What’s the goal this year?
“Individually the goal is a top five finish,” he said.
But it’s not his top priority.
“The ultimate goal is to get the entire team to state,” Wilson adamantly said.
The unselfish approach to each meet is what Panthers coach Marty Smyser says is the best part of having them on the team.
“They just love each other,” the Palmyra coach said. “Do they want to beat each other? Yes. But they just want to win more than anything. That is what makes them so special.”
Aside from getting out on the course every chance they get, the trio of golfers also go to the same golf specialist in Quincy, Ill.
At least once a week during the season, Wilson, Hammond and Sublette all make a trip over to see Mark Christensen.
The golf specialist, who has worked with many of the area’s top youth golfers, noted it is evident how much they want each other to succeed.
“They are all just good friends,” Christensen said. “And as any golfer can tell you, playing and competing with your buddies is awesome. They all have worked tremendously hard on their games for a long time.”
All three of them used to play baseball. And they all chose golf as their primary sport around the same time.
“I always played some with my dad when I was little, but my eighth grade year is when I decided I wanted to take golf more serious,” Sublette said. “I just fell in love with it.”
And the three have been making trips to see Christensen for the past four years.
“Mark has been a great coach to not only me, but the entire team,” Hammond said. “He has helped us with our swing, putting and getting the right mentality. He really has prepared us to get to the next level.”
But one thing Christensen nor any other coach can teach is hard work. All three have developed the same work ethic, led by Sublette’s determination to get his short game better.
“Laithan is out at our course every morning before school at 7 a.m.,” Smyser explained. “He’s out there chipping and putting at least four days a week and is at school by 8.”
The Panthers coach noted the trio also can be found out on the course even on days they are not scheduled to practice. And even some for a second time in a day.
“A lot of the time after we finish up playing somewhere, they will go home and get out and play another nine holes if there is enough time for them," he said. "You just can’t teach or replace hard work.”
And the coach does not want to even begin thinking about replacing them.
“They have come behind some good golfers in our program, which kind of helped lay the foundation,” Smyser said. “But these three have worked really hard all year for many years. It’s going to be really hard to replace them. They are just great kids, great students and what they do on a daily basis is the reason why they will be successful after high school. I am obviously really proud of them.”