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St. Petersburg High trio take on top amateur golf field

Juniors Thayne Thomas, Grayson Stone and Jackson Woroner will square off with many of the nation’s top collegiate golfers in the 97th annual New Year’s Invitational.
St. Petersburg High juniors, from left, Thayne Thomas, Jackson Woroner and Grayson Stone, all with handicaps hovering around scratch, are among the contenders in the 97th annual New Year's Invitational held this week at the St. Petersburg Country Club.
St. Petersburg High juniors, from left, Thayne Thomas, Jackson Woroner and Grayson Stone, all with handicaps hovering around scratch, are among the contenders in the 97th annual New Year's Invitational held this week at the St. Petersburg Country Club. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Jan. 5

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg High juniors Thayne Thomas, Grayson Stone and Jackson Woroner are together on the golf course about four hours a day, every day.

For two or more of those hours, they are trying to beat each other as badly as possible.

So far, it’s pretty much a neck-and-neck battle.

“There’s a lot of trash talking going on,” Thomas said.

Stone described it as “constant chirping.”

“I think all of it taken together makes us all better,” Woroner added.

Something sure is working.

Heading into the 97th annual New Year’s Invitational (today through Sunday), Thomas and Stone’s 18-hole average is about a stroke under par, while Woroner averages about 1 over.

Part of the encouraging news for the high school threesome is that the tournament — featuring one of the most competitive amateur fields in the southeast with dozens of top college players — is held at their home course, St. Petersburg Country Club.

The trio knows how high the stakes are.

“Playing well in this tournament could be a game changer when it comes to college prospects,” said Stone, whose father Dan is not only a St. Pete High grad and former New Year’s Invitational winner, but a player who went on to become a first-team All-American for the University of Florida and a pro for 10 years on various tours.

Grayson, by the way, beat dad for the first time a few weeks ago, winning by a stroke at 2-under par.

“Dad was happy for me,” he said. “It was a good moment for both of us.”

Woroner then chimed in with a binding piece of history: His father, Jamie, played high school golf with Dan Stone.

“But my dad wasn’t as good as Dan Stone in golf,” Woroner said. “My dad was a better soccer and volleyball player. He actually went on to play professional beach volleyball in the 1980s.”

A similar story to Thomas’ father, who played various sports, including football and volleyball before going into the military.

Bottom line is that these teens have strong, athletic bloodlines, attributes that show up in their swings; they all bash drives close to 300 yards, hit crisp iron shots and are similarly adept around the greens.

Through the high school season, the trio rotated the top three positions, ultimately helping the Green Devils place sixth at the state tournament.

This week, however, is right up there with their toughest tests to date.

“This week we’ll be pulling for each other,” Stone said. “I think the daily competition between us definitely helps us in tough tournaments like this.”

97th annual New Year’s Open

When/where: Thursday-Sunday; St. Petersburg Country Club

Format: Four rounds of stroke play in championship and mid-amateur flights. Three rounds of stroke play in senior flights.

Field: 111 amateurs

Admission: Free, but social distancing and face masks are requested

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Top contenders

• John Daly II, Arkansas sophomore, son of former PGA star John Daly

• Nick Hofman, Western Kentucky redshirt sophomore (formerly at Purdue)

• William Huang, Princeton sophomore, 2022 Ivy League rookie of the year

• Ty Gingerich, Cincinnati junior, placed 7th in last year’s NYI

• Nico Lang, from Germany, Illinois senior

• C.J. Easley, Ole Miss senior (formerly at Auburn)