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WAKE FOREST — The top two golfers in the NAC 6 conference just happen to share the same team and the same season average.
Wake Forest’s Finn Jarrell and Josh Buxbaum are both tied for first place off back-to-back matches to start the season.
In the season opener at Wakefield TPC on March 10, both Jarrell and Buxbaum shot a 40 to tie for the low medalist of the conference match.
Then on March 12 at Zebulon Country Club, the two Cougars tied for first place again with their personal best score of 35. Now they share an average of 37.5, which is tied for first place in the conference.
“It’s definitely a big coincidence,” Buxbaum said. “We have a similar style of play, but we never expected this.”
“We both try to one-up each other,” Jarrell said. “It not only helps us, but the team play better.”
Jarrell, a senior, and Buxbaum, a junior, have helped lead their Wake Forest team to a first-place standing in the NAC 6 conference. They are ahead of second-place Heritage, who placed second in back-to-back matches behind the Cougars.
“We always want to play as well as we can,” Buxbaum said. “No one wants to lose. It’s also cool to see that you tied with your teammate for first place.”
“This year, the competition has definitely gotten a lot better,” Jarrell said. “All the other teams are trying to push us to get better.”
Their success leading to the team’s first-place standing has been a big boost to the program, according to Wake Forest head coach Justin Richards. He said their friendly competition on the course has sparked motivation for all of the golfers on the squad.
“I’ve always felt like inner competition is the best kind of competition,” Richards said. “That is the most healthy type of competition that you can have. These guys do a great job keeping that balance. They want to be the best, but they are also each other’s No. 1 supporter and fan. That’s very rare.”
Even though the two golfers have been on the same team for the past three years, Jarrell said the connection didn’t start until they competed in the 4A state tournament as individuals together. They were the only representatives from Wake Forest to compete for a state title.
“When we both made it to the state tournament last year, Josh and I became really close,” Jarrell said. “Since then, we’ve been hanging out all the time. We play golf together. He drives me and I hope to drive him to get better.”
The friendship has grown from there. Buxbaum added that the bond grows stronger every day both on and off the course.
“Finn and I go to lunch together,” Buxbaum said. “It has helped on and off the course. When you’re competing with your best friend and teammate, it makes it a lot more fun.”
When they played in the state tournament, Buxbaum tied for 44th overall, while Jarrell tied for 80th. Even though the scores were far apart, both golfers said there was a lot more to it than what was shown on paper.
“One stroke can make a big difference in a match,” Jarrell said. “It can change everything. Every stroke counts. Everybody on our team knows that.”
“One shot can make a difference between 40th place and 70th place in a state tournament,” Buxbaum said. “Everyone at the state tournament plays so close together. You have to treat a birdie putt the same way you would treat a bogey putt.”
Both Jarrell and Buxbaum were born and raised in Wake Forest. They both play at Olde Liberty Golf Course together. Jarrell’s golf origin story started as soon as he started high school.
“I played golf off and on going into my freshman year,” Jarrell said. “I really got into it. I’ve slowly gotten better as I’ve progressed through high school. I feel like this year, we have a good shot to be as good as we can be.”
For Buxbaum, his love of golf came from a spa day for his mother and sister, leaving him and his father with nothing else to do with their time.
“My family and I were on vacation while I was in the eighth grade,” Buxbaum said. “Ever since then, I’ve been very competitive in everything that I do. Once I start something, I don’t want to give it up until I know I’m as good as I can be.”
Since then, the two golfers have improved their game year after year. After watching them play for multiple seasons, Richards has analyzed what makes them as good as they are now.
“Finn and Josh are both very smart golfers,” Richards said. “A lot of golfers don’t have the patience to ride out the game. These two guys do a tremendous job of managing the game and not trying to force anything. That’s why they are so consistent and successful.
“Their success started from last year. I’ve never had a group bond and get together like this year’s team. Everyone followed Finn’s performance at regionals last year and it just caught on with the rest of our team coming into this season.
“These guys bought in and that made a difference. Finn and Josh both know the strengths of their game. They know what they can do and they do it well.”
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, all high school athletics have been suspended until April 6, including boys golf. During this hiatus, both Jarrell and Buxbaum want to make the best of their time.
“We just have to keep practicing,” Jarrell said. “Hopefully, the coronavirus passes. As a senior, this is it for me. I want to make the best of what I have.”
“As big of a setback this coronavirus outbreak is, it’s also a good opportunity for us to play as much golf as we want for the next few weeks,” Buxbaum said. “We have this time to figure out what to do to get better. This can help us get building off what we have.”
When things get back to normal, Wake Forest plans on staying ahead in the conference standings. The Cougars lost to Corinth Holders last year and finished second in the NAC 6. This season, they have a chance to do something that has never been done in recent memory.
“Our team has always had the goal to win the NAC 6 conference,” Buxbaum said. “There’s always more that we can do. Our team has really bonded together this season to get it done.”