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'The sky is the limit'

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Believe it or not, Deerfield-Windsor star golfer Josh Crews called himself an "idiot" on Monday.

Pretty harsh, considering he'd just won the GISA Class AAA State Championship -- as a freshman, no less.

"I started the year so bad, shooting in the mid-80s because I hadn't practiced all summer. And after the first couple of matches, I just told myself, 'You're such an idiot,' because I knew that I (had the potential to be good), but I hadn't worked at it like I should've," said Crews, who fired his best score of the entire season at the best possible time -- a 71 -- on Monday at Doublegate during the GISA Class AAA State Tournament, winning low medalist honors, while DWS (318) finished third overall as a team and Stratford (299) won the team title. "I was just kind of burned out. But after those first couple of tournaments, I started working every day. Going to the course every chance I got; playing until it was dark."

Crews, who's been playing since he was 10 years old, then gave a long pause before adding with a chuckle: "I guess you could say I've got that passion back now."

You could definitely say that.

Crews, who is DWS' first individual state champ since Ashton Pellicano won it all in 2008, torched the front nine of Doublegate -- his home course -- and turned at 3-under, birdieing hole Nos. 4, 6 and 7, while staying bogey-free on the other six.

"The front nine is usually my strongest, so I was definitely telling myself, 'Josh, don't blow this,' as I headed to the back," said Crews, who fired a 73 last year in his first state tournament appearance -- good enough for All-State honors both seasons. "But No. 15 scared me -- that was my double-bogey. That's usually a hole I birdie, so I didn't know where I stood after that."

After a par on No. 10 -- followed by his first bogey of the tournament on No. 11 -- Crews then holed three straight pars and held a two-shot lead over his next closest competitor entering No. 15.

But then both he and DWS coach Gordy Gruhl watched in horror as Crews' tee shot went array, finding its way into the water. After taking a drop, it got worse as Crews proceeded to bury his approach in the sand trap.

"He'd had such a solid round up to that point. It was just a bad tee shot," Gruhl said. "But he recovered nicely."

Yes, he did.

Crews said he quietly collected his thoughts, then dropped par on No. 16, birdied 17 and closed out his round with a par on 18.

But was it good enough to win the whole thing?

"I really didn't know," Crews admitted. "There was still a group behind me. But I knew 71 was good."

Turns out, it was the best.

The only golfer who had a shot to catch Crews at that point was Brookwood's Henson Arwood, who finished runner-up with a 72. He joined Crews on the All-State Team, followed bye Stratford's Henry Persons (73), Matthew Berringer (75), brother Brian Berringer (75) and Mount de Sales' Wil Summers (74).

And because pre-tournament favorite Startford did the predictable and won the team title by 16 strokes over second-place Mount de Sales (315), the story after it was all over suddenly became the play of the freshman phenom from Deerfield.

"He really wasn't playing great when the season started. He was hitting drives left, or right -- really all over the place," Gruhl said. "Then as time wore on, he started getting the ball in play more. And once he did that, it all started coming together because he's got one the best short games I've ever seen for a kid his age.

"The bottom line, though, is this: He plays big in big tournaments. And Monday's a perfect example of that."

Another great example came less than two weeks ago -- when Crews won the Region 3-AAA title with a 72 -- and that win came not on his home course, but an hour north in Americus on Griffin Bell.

"It really feels great," Crews said of the first of what he hopes will be many state titles to come. "I dreamed I would do it one day, but I never dreamed I would do it as a freshman."

Not to be overlooked, however, was the play of Crews' teammates Monday as John Leach fired an 80, followed by John Cole (83) and Hunter Brooks (84). Crews, Leach, Cole and No. 5 player Zach Jarzen are all freshmen, while Brooks is just a sophomore.

That fact alone left Gruhl excited about the future of his golf prorgram after Monday's solid outing.

"It's a very positive thing and I was really glad to see John Leach have such a good day. He's really come along, too," Gruhl said. "All the guys just need to play a little more in the offseason because I think everyone would agree we were a little slow getting started this year. Hopefully by next year, we will have learned from that and just pick up where we left off."

You don't have to worry about that when it comes to Crews, who says he's not only learned his lesson after admittedly slacking on his golf game over the summer prior to the start of the season, but now remains fully rededicated to the sport he first started picked up when he was just 10.

"(Monday), after it was over, I just felt so proud because I'd come a long way since the beginning of the season," said Crews, who won his first major junior tournament at age 13 in the Georgia sectionals. "And my mom and dad were there to see me, too. So that meant a lot."

Crews has had plenty of help, though, to get to where he is outside of the continued support by his mother, Georgia, and father, Don. He's been tutored by arguably the most famous men's golfer to come out of Albany, former tour pro Sonny Skinner, who teaches at River Pointe.

"I have had a bunch of lessons (but the ones from Sonny have been) the best," Crews said. "He's really helped my game a lot."

Gruhl would agree -- and then some.

After all, the Deerfield coach doesn't see any reason why Crews can't become the next major Division I signee from DWS after T.J. Mitchell inked with the University of Georgia two years ago.

"I think T.J. maybe was a little more consistent at Josh's age, but skill-wise they're about the same," Gruhl said. "Josh just has so much (raw) talent. He has a gift. He just has to keep working at it.

"But if you ask me ... the sky is the limit."

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SOUTHLAND'S SCORES:

The Raiders were Southwest Georgia's other local team competing in the Class AAA state tournament as they finished with a collective 353, led by Peter Lee's 79, and followed by Mason Law (84), Jay Buchanan (84) and Brandon Ehrler (106).