Golf/Tennis blog: Coaches,athletes play the waiting game

When it come to the sports of golf and tennis dealing with a possible shutdown for the remainder of the spring, the high school coaches must have their players ready to be prepared to play and be prepared for disappointment.

“This is uncharted territory,” said Woodward Academy coach Pete Fritts, whose girls have won the state golf championship three of the last four seasons. “We’re navigating through it the best we can.”

The GHSA has suspended all activities through March 27. Schools are scheduled to reopen on March 31. A decision regarding the remainder of the season will be determined at that time.

That means no golf tournaments or tennis tournaments at least until the end of March.

For golf it means the postponement of the GSGA Girls Invitational at Harbor Club, the Hardaway Invitational in Columbus, the Georgia-South Carolina Cup, and the prestigious High School Invitation at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

For tennis it means the postponement of the Southwest DeKalb Panther Invitational, the Peachtree City High School Tennis Championships hosted by Starr’s Mill and the venerable Buckhead Rotary Tournament.

The challenges faced by golf and tennis are different than those of other team sports. There are fewer participants and “social distancing” comes naturally. Golfers are spread out over acres of land. Tennis players are on the opposite side of the courts.

It also helps that many golfers and tennis players have their own individual private coaches and can easily practice on their own.

“They can still get a lot of work in,” Carrollton golf coach Kurt Hitzeman said. “They can use this as an opportunity to get even better at the end of this shutdown.”

Starr’s Mill coach Burt Waller said, “The kids are practicing on their own, which is about all they can do. We haven’t really been having any kind of communication other than everybody to keep working in case we do get to come back and even that’s up in the air.”

Chamblee tennis coach Larisa Tulchinsky, whose boys and girls are the defending Class AAAAA champions, said, “Safety is our priority. We encourage our players to stay fit and, if they’re able to, to get on the courses. If it is allowed, we are eager to compete again.”

The season had already been plagued by heavy rains that limited practice time. This was especially important for tennis teams who are trying to select and improve the timing of its double teams.

The golf and tennis teams had reached the halfway mark when the plug was pulled. There’s no guarantee it will be allowed to continue or will be discarded. If competition is allowed to continue, teams must be cleared in time to hold the region and area tournaments required to fill the field for the state meet. If play is resumed, the schedule would likely be compressed, if the current championship dates are held.

Region tennis tournaments must be completed by April 16, with state playoffs beginning April 21, with the state finals on May 9 at Berry College.

Area golf tournaments must be completed by May 5, with state tournaments scheduled for May 18-19 at various sites around the state.

“I’m optimistic and hopeful we can get it started back up,”  Hitzeman said. “These kids are golfers and they love to compete. This is the first time we’ve had to deal with something like this. It’s going to be different for them.”

Seth Ellerbee contributed to this report.