Wake Forest High’s Alex Smalley has been a picture of consistency on the golf course this spring. Consistently great.
Toss out his one bad round, a 42 at Wildwood Green on March 19, and Smalley is averaging a two-under par 33.8 in Cap Eight 4A matches.
He has won two major high school invitationals, claiming the kickoff event at Keith Hills Golf Course in Buies Creek and the N.C. High School Invitational at Treyburn Country Club in Durham. He was second at the Neuse Invitational despite shooting a three-under-par 69.
“I’m playing pretty consistently,” said Smalley, apparently the master of the understatement.
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The Cap Eight has some of the top high school golfers in the state. Broughton won the team title in 2014 and 2012, and Leesville Road won in 2011. Broughton’s Stephen Saleeby was the 2012 state champion and Millbrook’s Stephen Franken lost in a playoff for the 2014 individual title.
Five of the top eight finishers in last year’s 4A championships are playing in the Cap Eight this season.
But Smalley is dominating the league.
He has posted nine-hole rounds of 36 (Carolina Country Club), 34 (North Ridge Country Club), 34 (Heritage Golf Club), 32 (Wakefield Plantation) and 33 (Heritage Golf Club) in addition to his tough outing at Wildwood on a cold, windy day when he never felt comfortable.
“I’m putting well right now,” he said. “If you hit it on the green and you make your putts, you are going to have a good score.”
Smalley was third (72-70) behind winner Patrick Cover of Cornelius Hough and Franken in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championships in 2014. Smalley’s goal this year is to at least match that finish.
His top goal, for the team to qualify for the state championships, has become a long shot. The Cougars sit in fifth place in the Cap Eight and likely would have to playtheir best golf of the year to survive a packed Mideast Regional on May 5 at the Raleigh Country Club.
Broughton is among the state favorites, and Millbrook is a solid No. 2 in the league.
The top three teams in the regional advance to the state finals along with the top three individuals not on a qualifying team.
“There are some great teams in our conference,” he said. “There are some really good golfers.”
But so far, Smalley has been the best, topping Franken’s even-par 36.0 average with a 35.17 despite the one bad round. The Cap 8 doesn’t count each player’s’ highest score in its season averages, and Smalley has a 33.8 to 35.6 edge in the official standings.
“Alex continues to amaze me the way he approaches the game both mentally and physically,” Wake Forest coach Justin Richards said. “There is no part of his game that is weak, and this shows with the confidence he plays with.
“Whether he has a bad hole or a good hole, Alex keeps the same cool and calm demeanor. He has this riveting ability to put bad shots behind him, which all great golfers can do. This separates the good golfers from the great golfers.”
Smalley said he has learned to not think too far down the course. The only shot you control is the next one.
“You want to have complete confidence in the next shot,” he said. “All the guys on the pro tour say you take it one shot at a time so that must be right.”
Smalley has played with the pros. He won the high school qualifier for the Rex Hospital Open last year. He didn’t make the cut on the TPC Wakefield course, but he had rounds of 76-71.
His golfing success takes on even more significance in light of his academic success. He has a 4.71 overall grade point average. This spring he is taking AP English, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry and AP Spanish.
“Just by watching Alex off the course, you would never know he was one of the best golfers in the state,” Richards said. “He is humble, respectful and pleasant to be around. The best is to see him interact with his teammates because he just enjoys being one of the guys.
“Alex has the foundation and support in his life to be a successful golfer, and is intelligent enough to know how valuable a great education is.”
Richards said Smalley’s academic success this spring while still playing at a high level is one of the senior’s most impressive accomplishments. Richards said it is apparent how important academics are to Smalley.
“I’ve had to learn time management,” Smalley said. “When you consider that 18 holes takes about five and a half or six hours including warmup, it is hard to get everything done. And with these courses I’m taking, you can’t slack off.
“But I think it is going to help me next year in college. That’s the goal – to do well academically in college. I’m trying to prepare for that.”
Smalley was heavily recruited by colleges, and he chose Duke, in part, for its academic reputation, its small enrollment, its coaches and its facilities.
“There is no question in my mind that Duke is the best place for me,” he said.
But first, there are goals left for this season.
The Cap 8 plays its weekly match at Hedingham Golf Club on Tuesday. A rained-out match at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course may be worked into the schedule before next week’s regional.
If things go well in the regional, Smalley would face many of the state’s best high school golfers in the NCHSAA 4A championships on May 11 at Pinehurst No. 2 and on May 12 at Pinehurst No. 4.
He has had an incredible year, but all those great rounds won’t be a factor from the regionals on. He’ll have to play great at the regionals just to get to the state finals.
But Smalley also knows the only shot that he can control is the next one. He doesn’t need to think too far ahead.