During a practice round, Hillgrove golfer Eric Penland shot a 4-under par 68.
The highlight of that round was closing it out with an eagle on the 18th hole.
It was the last hole Penland would play in high school.
The following day, the coronavirus pandemic put an end to his senior season.
“I was on the golf course and got a call from my parents, and they said that Cobb County canceled (school),” Penland said. “I looked up on social media and saw a bunch of posts and was like, ‘Wow, I (may) never tee off another high school golf shot.’ I will never be inside the (Hillgrove) building for a while. I wanted to roam the school halls one more time.”
Hillgrove’s last match was the Cobb County Championships at City Club Marietta, where the Hawks finished in third place.
“On the day before they officially called everything off, coach sent out a text and said we would still be playing region and state if we go back in late April,” said Penland, a member of last summer’s Georgia High School Golf Coaches Association annual North/South All-Star Ryder Cup. “Then the news came out that we were out of the rest of the year, and I was like ‘Oh, man, that’s tough.’”
Fortunately for Penland, the golf courses remained open. As long as he took efforts to socially distance himself from others, he could play all the golf he wanted, but it was still disappointing that he could not finish his senior year.
Penland was on an experienced team that had already won back-to-back Region 3AAAAAAA titles. He reflected on the 2018 title and the birdies he piled up to help the Hawks win.
But now that he has signed for play golf at Piedmont College, Penland will have a chance to enjoy that team bonding experience that the pandemic had taken away.
“His best golf is ahead of him,” Hillgrove coach Jeffrey Wishon said. “Piedmont is getting a steal.”
As a four-year member of the Hillgrove varsity squad, Penland said he tries not to think about his swing too much. He is not a long-ball hitter. He focuses on hitting it in the fairway, and he lets his short game take care of the rest.
Penland, who carries a 4.3 grade-point average and has made three state championship appearances, is also known for keeping an even keel. He does not let a bad hole or a bad shot interfere with his round.
“He’s never out of a round,” Wishon said. “He’s a smart player and composed. On top of being very talented, he’s also mentally very tough. He was going to have a big year.”
Added Penland: “I forced myself to grind through everything. You never have you best stuff all the time, and I’ve accepted that and found ways to play good, and keep on moving forward.