Sam La Rocca’s preparation for his junior season included a spring break trip two weeks ago to the Southern California desert resort communities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert.
It was a golfing vacation more than anything else. He wasn’t there to party with spring breakers from nearby Los Angeles or San Diego.
“I got to play five rounds of golf and they were the best courses I’ve ever played,” La Rocca said. “I’m definitely glad I got to play that week. It was a lot of fun.
“They were desert courses, so it helped you focus because other than the fairways, it was desert all around you.”
La Rocca was in the fairways most of the afternoon Thursday at Fremont Hills Country Club while leading Nixa over Ozark 181-189. He claimed medalist honors with a 42.
La Rocca had a putt for a birdie lip out on the No. 9 hole after his drive landed 15 feet from the pin. But overall he was as proud of his putting as any part of his game.
Players and coaches from both sides spoke of how fast they felt the greens at Fremont Hills are and the possible three- or four-putts they can create.
“You couldn’t hit anything too fast or else your putt would keep rolling past the hole,” La Rocca said. “You had to tap the ball lightly. I had a few mishaps, but overall I got in some good two-putts.”
Nixa coach Jeff Lotz noted the greens at Rivercut Golf Course, where the Eagles practice, are typically slower than at most courses.
“You have to learn to adjust to the speed,” Lotz said. “That’s why you practice on the putting green before you play.”
Fremont Hills is Ozark’s home course and thus the Tigers are familiar with the speed of the greens.
“With the weather conditions, the pre-aeration and the way they like to have their greens here, they’re pretty fast,” Ozark coach Justin Peery said. “We play on them every day. So it should be harder for Nixa and other visiting teams to come in and deal with them.”
Ozark was led by Peyton Blake’s 45.
Elijah Hampton, a freshman playing for Ozark’s junior varsity, is pushing for a spot on the Tigers' varsity after shooting a 54.
“We improved by eight strokes from what we did Tuesday,” Peery said. "We'd like our to be lower than it is. But as long as continue to improve, we'll be where we want be for the conference tournament and Districts.”
NIXA (181) — Sam LaRocca 42, Cole Eaglebarger 45, Caleb Faulk 45, Johnathan Miller 49, Hunter McConnell 53.
OZARK (189) — Peyton Blake 45, Kelby Day 46, Parker Ramsdell 46, Garrett Sutherland 52, Ty Johns 57.