Reynolds Lambert had a unique view of last year’s final-round battle between Dothan golfers Hal Dove and Thomas Ponder at the Press Thornton Future Masters.
The Mountain Brook resident was playing against them in the final group.
“I was hanging in there for a while until the last couple of holes,” Lambert said earlier this week. “Them battling it out was pretty fun to watch. I definitely love playing with both of them.”
Any assumption that this week is going to be a two-man race in the 15-18 age division that begins today would be unfair – not just to Ponder, the 2017 Future Masters champion, and Dove, who edged Ponder in a two-hole, sudden-death playoff last year, but to the rest of the field.
That includes Lambert, who tied for third place here in 2018 and is among a group of outstanding Alabama golfers in a very strong year for high school golf in the state, particularly the Birmingham area.
Future Masters tournament director Kevin Klein, who is also two-time state champion Houston Academy’s golf coach, said this year’s field is as talented and deep as ever – and filled with Alabama golfers who could contend.
“It’s amazing how many Division I signees they’ve had in the state this year, especially in Birmingham,” Klein said. “Austin Coggin is an extremely good player. He’s going to Auburn with Hal. Reynolds Lambert is another full-ride guy. He’s going to Furman. Ryan Eshleman is only a junior, but he’s already committed to Auburn. His dad’s the pro at the Country Club of Birmingham.”
Eshleman is practically a fixture at the Future Masters. He’s played every year since he was 10, so this is his eighth year. He looks forward not just to the competition, but to seeing familiar faces again.
“I’ve spent a good bit of time with Hal and Thomas,” Eshleman said. “I like them both. They’re good guys and they’re really great players. They’re always tough on their home course in Dothan. You can always kind of count them in, for sure.
“It was really cool to watch them. I played with Thomas in the last round two years ago in the final group. It was pretty cool because he had a good gallery following him. Then Hal really wanted to win it bad and that was cool to watch him win, too.”
Eshleman added that whoever wins this week will have to beat an excellent field.
“We’ve got some great golf in Alabama and Birmingham,” the 17-year-old said. “We’ve got six guys coming down just off the top of my head that can compete hard and really have a chance to win.”
The state tournament last month confirmed this. Ponder won his third individual state championship at Providence Christian, capturing the 4A crown with a two-day score of 11-under 133. Dove won the Class 3A individual title. In Class 7A, Coggin of Vestavia Hills won the individual title with a 5-under 139 total. Sargent and Lambert, teammates at Mountain Brook, were at 143. Eshleman of Vestavia Hills was another shot back. Price Brown of McGill-Toolen in Mobile and William Wann of Mountain Brook tied for fifth.
Coggin recently finished 23 rd in the Western Junior at Rich Harvest Farms in Chicago. The two-time Class 7A individual champion would love to add the Future Masters title.
“It’d mean everything. It would pretty much solidify my junior career,” Coggin said. “One of the first places I got started was the Future Masters. Going out like that would be good, just like I did at state. I won state as a freshman and won it as a senior. So getting started and finishing strong is my motto.”
He also knows Dove and Ponder will make him earn it.
“I’m really excited about playing with Hal at Auburn,” Coggin said. “Thomas, we’ve been competitors since … forever. We’ve had some battles. We had a battle this year at the Joe King in Auburn and I happened to come out on top. That was a big accomplishment for me.”
Klein recalled that battle at the Joe King Invitational at the AU Club course. It was a six-hole playoff between Coggin, Ponder and Brown.
“They put on the best golf I’ve seen anywhere,” Klein said.
“It was a lot of fun – very stressful, for sure,” Coggin added.
Klein said there are “a lot” of golfers in this field who can win the tournament. That includes Dothan golfers not named Ponder and Dove.
“Emmett Lee and Matthew Streitman are just as talented as those guys, they’re just younger,” Klein said. “They don’t get quite the limelight.”
Just posting the low Dothan score will be an achievement. But that talented Birmingham group will be hungry, too. This will be Lambert’s fifth Future Masters.
“Pretty much every year since I’ve been going there I’ve gotten a little better,” he said. “I tied for third last year. This tournament’s always been one of my favorite tournaments because how big the field is and how strong the field is and all the people that are there. I really like Dothan and everything about it.”
Eshleman said it “would mean the world” to win it.
“Once I turned 15 and started playing in the older group and started playing for that jacket it really means something more – especially this being the 70 th one,” he said. “Plus, my role model and mentor, Hubert Green won this (1962), I believe. He passed away last summer around this time.
“I’ve always thought about him when I go down there. I’ve always wanted to win it. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good shot. I’m happy with where my game is so I’m excited for the week.”