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Cheney, Sapp lead South Effingham back to Carrollton
South Effingham golf
Hannah Smith (from left), Abbie Cheney, Alyssa Marburger, Hillary Smith and Bella Sapp are set to represent South Effingham at the state golf tournament in Carrollton on May 17-18. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — Sustained excellence is rarely accompanied by anonymity. It has been in the case of two South Effingham golfers, however.

Seniors Abbie Cheney and Bella Sapp have been stellar on the links for four years and are set to compete in their third state tournament May 17-18 at Sunset Hills Country Club in Carrollton. 

“We are fortunate that we’ve got Abbie and Bella to lead us,” Mustangs coach Mitchell Curry said. “They took us there as freshmen and then — when I took over (as coach) — they took us there as sophomores and, last year, of course, we got cut short because of COVID-19, but I’m sure we would have qualified then as well.”

Despite their success, Cheney and Sapp have operated in relative obscurity even at their school. The golf team has remained small but it grew a bit this year. The seniors will be joined in Carrollton by sophomore Hannah Smith, freshman Hillary Smith and sophomore Alyssa Marburger.

“This is the most players we’ve ever had,” Cheney said. 

“I think it takes more pressure off me and Abbie to have more scores coming in,” Sapp added. “Now we have girls that can back us up.”

With Cheney and Sapp setting the pace, South Effingham recently won the Class AAAAAA Area I championship at the Georgia Southern University Golf Course, allowing  it to skip the sectional tournament at Jekyll Island’s Indian Mounds. 

The Mustangs are undefeated in nine-hole matches this year and Cheney or Sapp have finished as the low medalist in all their tournaments except two. 

“Shoot! They can teach me more than I can teach them. I will tell you that,” Curry said. “I tell them, ‘I am the facilitator for y’all. I can’t teach y’all about nothing.

“They can coach the younger girls better than I can. I’m just fortunate to have them.”

Assistant coach Elizabeth Goggin said Cheney and Sapp actually are coaches for their teammates

“They are strong leaders,” Goggin said. “They know golf is an individual sport but they also know that (the performance) collectively as a team is what matters. They have been nothing short of great with all the other girls who are still kind of learning the game.”

The Smiths, who are sisters, and Marburger have never seen Sunset Hills Country Club.

“(Cheney and Sapp) have played the course before so they know what to expect,” Curry said.

The familiarity hasn’t completely calmed Cheney and Sapp’s nerves, however.

“It’s going to be same nervousness just because the competition has accomplished just as much as you have and they are the same level of players as you are,” Sapp said. “I do feel a little bit more confident going into it because I know on  the first tee it’s not the biggest deal if you still have 17 holes to play. It the biggest deal if you mess up because you still have 17 holes to play.

“As a sophomore, I thought it was going to be the end of the world (when I hit a bad shot).”

Cheney expects the emotional butterflies to scatter quickly.

“It’ll be a lot easier to get over the nerves after the first hole,” she said. “You’ll be nervous on the first tee but, after that ...”

Curry seems to have more confidence in his players than they have in themselves.

“We’ve got a lot of experience with Bella and Abbie, and there aren’t any better golfers in the state than them so I’m not worried about it,” he said.

The state tournament is a 36-hole event on a course unlike any in the Coastal Empire. It features rolling terrain.

“Its actually the same course (Cheney and Sapp) played when there were sophomores,” Curry said. “It’s a hilly course with some elevated greens. It has a long par-3 that is a challenge for lady golfers.

“... Yeah. It’s a tough course.”

The competition in the 16-team field will be keen, too.

“Buford and Johns Creek, those are some big golfing schools,” Curry said, “but they are powerhouses in every sport.”

 Curry is hopeful that the Mustangs will post at least a top-five finish. They placed fourth in the Class AAAAA tournament at Sunset Hills two years ago.

“I think that’s a realistic goal,” Curry said. “Of course, we want to win.”