MORGANTOWN — As Trinity Christian senior Mark Spruill took the tee on the par-4 eighth hole at The Pines Country Club, he was vying neck-and-neck for the lead. The pressure was on, and his next shot was the last thing he wanted to see.
“I teed up with a 4-iron, and I think I almost missed it,” Spruill said. “It was extremely bad.”
Spruill went rummaging through his bag for the right club. As he took a couple practice swings, he felt good.
“I was confident I could hit that 7-iron straight and close to the hole. Whenever I get into those situations, I know I can pull the shot off because I’ve practiced and done it before,” he said.
Spruill landed it plumply on the green, where he two-putted to save par.
“To be able to not let a bad shot swallow him up, and to be able to recover from it — to know that he’s better than one bad shot. It’s situations like that where you see his confidence,” Trinity coach Mike Baldy said.
It’s that confidence that secured Spruill’s place as the No. 1 golfer in the Warriors lineup and helped him bring his school to the forefront of West Virginia prep golf over the past few seasons, including a trip to the state championships in 2017.
Equally important is the impact his confidence and leadership has upon those around him. Perhaps the biggest benefactor has been fellow senior Briston Bennett.
When Bennett first showed up to try-out for the golf team, he was a sophomore with next-to-no experience. As the story goes, his first shot flew waywardly into a nearby golf cart before wildly ricocheting into the parking lot.
Fast forward two years, and Bennett plays No. 2 for the Warriors.
“We really lean a lot on Briston. He’s the unsung hero of the team,” Baldy said. “He’s not a conventional golfer but he hits the ball straight, he recovers from bad shots and he makes long putts. You don’t always know what to expect from him, but you usually get good news from him when the score’s come in.”
Bennett said his rise from rookie to state championship contender partly is attributable to Spruill.
“A lot of it starts with Mark. He does a lot of studying of the game. He understands all the intricate details of striking the ball, being consistent around the greens, and really every aspect of the game,” Bennett said. “To have a No. 1 and a leader on the team like that, it makes you want to step up your game.”
Spruill demonstrated so much influence that Bennett claims he’s never had a lesson from another golfer.
Bennett’s work ethic has become an inspiration to Spruill as well.
“When he came in here, we almost thought he’d be a lost cause, but now he’s become such an integral part of our team’s success and an enjoyable aspect of playing team golf,” Spruill said.
This week, Spruill and Bennett took the tee at The Pines, their home course. The seniors earned co-medalist honors as the Warriors nabbed the team victory — another step in the legacy Spruill and Bennett hope to leave.
“They both shot a 37 on Tuesday, which is terrific. If we can get scores like that out of Briston, we can go really far.”
Of course, the Warriors have a set distance on exactly how far they want to go — 83 miles, back to Wheeling and Oglebay Resort to avenge last year’s tough finish at states. Having players like Spruill and Bennett are crucial.
“They’re important because they demonstrate to the younger players the work ethic needed and the kind of scores that are required to succeed at regionals and states,” he said. “They both do a good job of keeping their cool whether they are playing well or playing poorly.”