TEMPLE TERRACE — Everything felt so familiar to Jimmy Stanger, from the golf course, to his top challenger, to his parents, grandfather and coach observing comfortably from only a few yards away.
So when the Class 2A, Region 3 championship seemed to be slipping away, Stanger never worried heading into the final few holes.
The home-schooled senior who competes for Gaither embraced the challenge and came up with a different ending.
A third-place finisher last year, Stanger birdied twice over the last four holes Monday to win the region championship at the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club.
Stanger shot 34 over the back nine to finish 3-under-par 71, just enough to hold off long-time friend and opponent Sam Horsfield of Ridge Community. Horsfield finished with 72.
“It was the most fun I’ve had in a good while,” said Stanger, a two-time Class 2A, District 9 champion. “Sam and I are good friends and we’ve known each other for years. …But I was hungry to get back to state.”
In the team competition, Plant scored 303 to finish second behind West Orange (301). The Panthers were led by senior Brad White (72) and had their top four golfers score 80 or better.
“I think, as a team, we peaked today,” White said.
Stanger and Plant will move on to compete at next week’s 2A tournament at Deer Island in Tavares. That will give Stanger, who was recently named a Rolex Junior All-American by the American Junior Golf Association, another chance to contend for the state title.
Stanger was a top-30 finisher last year and needed a strong finish Monday to ensure that he would return.
He pulled it out down the stretch, fighting off strong winds to birdie the par-3 No. 15 and No. 17. It was just enough to hold off Horsfield, who finished with a blistering 32 over the final nine holes.
That Stanger did it at Temple Terrace should come as little surprise, given that he’s played several tournaments there previously and won his second-straight district championship there last week.
“I didn’t want my (high school) career to end here,” Stanger said. “I had to finish strong.”
Stanger won’t have the luxury of a familiar environment next week but has made plans to bring along his 88-year-old grandfather, Raymond Stanger, who was present at the district and regional tournaments.
“He’s my good-luck charm,” Stanger said.