This year's No. 1 player at the South Piedmont 3A Conference boys' golf tournament was someone used to being No. 2 on his team.
A change in his swing between his freshman and sophomore years and a change in mental approach between his sophomore and junior years has allowed Thomas Farrell to steadily climb the ranks of his Jay M. Robinson team.
After playing behind 4A powerhouses in the ME-CA 7 conference during his first two seasons, Farrell's consistent play helped the Bulldogs capture not just this year's conference tournament title but the regular season championship as well.
Now a junior, Farrell picked up the game when he picked up his first clubs as a 5-year-old and started hitting balls in his backyard. By 8 years old, he was taking lessons and playing in tournaments.
When Farrell played in the 10- and 11-year-old division of the National Junior Golf Club, he once won three straight tournaments.
Farrell made his high school golf debut in 2008 when Robinson had a class of experienced seniors. He was locked into the team's fourth spot with a stroke average between 40 and 41 as the Bulldogs finished behind North Mecklenburg and Hopewell in conference standings.
Last year, the only teams separating Robinson from a regional championship were, again, North Meck and Hopewell. But as the third place finishers, the Bulldogs qualified for the 4A state championship tournament and played at Pinehurst No. 6.
"It was amazing," said Farrell. "It's one of the best courses I ever played."
Robinson's coach, Col. Richard Hefner, said playing at Pinehurst was important in Farrell's development.
"It kind of lit a fire under him and made him say 'I want to do that again,'" said Hefner.
Hefner says Farrell had what you'd call a "big swing." He would overshoot fairways and have to play his way back in to a decent score for holes.
Ken Guilford, the head pro at Cabarrus Country Club, helped Farrell shorten his swing. Farrell's stroke average shrunk to 39 during his sophomore year.
Playing at the No. 2 spot, behind fellow sophomore Trevor Cone, Farrell won a high school match for the first time, hitting a 35 at Cabarrus Country Club to win Robinson's home ME-CA 7 match.
During the summer, Farrell qualified for the prestigious N.C. Junior Amateur Tournament and finished third at the Rowan Junior Open.
Farrell says he entered this season with a different mental approach.
"In past years, I would have a bad hole or a bad stretch and it would weigh on me," said Farrell.
"I had a sense of confidence this year I didn't have in years past."
Cone remained as the Bulldogs' top player, but Farrell was a close second.
They often finished one-two in tournaments and tied for medalist honors at a late-season match when Robinson clinched the regular-season conference championship.
Cone won the regular season individual conference title with a stroke average of 36.50, but Farrell placed second, posting a 37.50 average. At the SPC tournament on April 26 at Huntersville's Skybrook Golf Club, Farrell was the medalist, shooting an 18-hole score of 72 to Cone's 74.
After coming up short of qualifying for the state tournament at the regional tournament each of the last two seasons, the Bulldogs have made a pact that they won't settle for anything less in 2011.
"We expect to go to states next year," said Farrell.
"We had four freshmen this year. It was a growing phase for them. If we don't reach states next year, it would be a failure."