After brandishing a triple-digit scorecard at last year's district tournament, Gaither junior Shawn Sirignano got a walking membership at a north Tampa course and played roughly 20 times a month over the summer.
The payoff was more than Sirignano or his teammates bargained for. The Cowboys just wanted to see improvement. In their season opener Tuesday, he gave them the improbable.
Competing in the final threesome at Babe Zaharias Golf Course, Sirignano and freshman teammate Jimmy Stanger each turned in 2-over 37 - the best scores of the day - to lift Gaither to a 158-166 win against Class 2A, District 10 foe Chamberlain in its season debut.
After the first pair of threesomes had come in, Chamberlain held a four-stroke lead, thanks mainly to junior Gary Buffington's 38. But that was before Sirignano turned in his card that featured birdie and only one double bogey on the Babe's back nine.
"Today," he said, "was the day I proved myself."
His most profound proving ground: the 316-yard No. 14. After a solid drive, Sirignano hit a flop shot with a 60-degree iron that hit the green, bounced left and rolled just past the hole. He settled for birdie.
"I started off driving not too well," Sirignano said. "I calmed down and noticed my team in front of me was doing average. I thought if I hit 4-over I'd be doing good. But after the birdie I thought, 'I can do this, I can stay solid.'"
Stanger, making his prep debut, also helped the Cowboys compensate for modest efforts by No. 1 player Josh Black and Gregg Tabor, each of whom finished with 42.
Buffington, meantime, narrowly missed equaling his career-best 36 on the Babe's back nine. He watched a 14-foot birdie putt lip out on No.10 and missed a 4-footer for par on No.17.
"I hit good putts throughout the whole round and it was just one of those days where I couldn't get it to go in the hole," said Buffington, the only Chief to eclipse 40.
"It's always frustrating when that happens, but you've got to have amnesia and try to put your next one in the hole."