NINETY SIX — Ninety Six senior Will Hepler was always meant to be a golfer.
Born with only one kidney, Hepler’s options from the beginning were limited. Doctors told him he couldn’t play any contact sports.
“The doctor told me golf was pretty much the only option, so I took it up when I was little,” Hepler said. “My mom has supported me all these years, getting me whatever I need as far as clubs and balls and all that good stuff.”
By the end of his senior year, Hepler leaves Ninety Six High School as the team’s top golfer and leader. Hepler, who finished tied for 14th at the Class 2A state championship, is the 2019 Index-Journal Player of the Year in boys golf.
Hepler played behind outstanding players such as Skyler McFaddin and Gabe Kelly the past two years, but Ninety Six coach David Duffie told him this season was his turn.
“He really progressed this year from last year,” Duffie said. “He made strides last year scoring-wise, started playing smarter last year. As you grow playing golf, from the time he started playing for us, he wouldn’t make some of the same mistakes that he made before.”
Hepler led the team, shooting a 39 nine-hole average and 77 18-hole average. He helped Ninety Six finish second in the Region 2-2A tournament and was sixth after the first day of the state tournament.
Before the season started, Hepler wasn’t sure how competitive Ninety Six could be, then came two key transfers in Christian Davidson and John Michael DeLatte. Davidson came over from Cambridge Academy and DeLatte moved to Ninety Six from Texas.
“As the season progressed, I feel like I got a lot better and I learned when you make mistakes, to just overcome them,” Hepler said. “I feel like I got a lot better at finishing my last rounds and not getting to the last couple holes and having a good round going and just lose it, making a few mistakes in the last couple holes. I feel like I got better at closing it out.”
Hepler is the third consecutive Ninety Six player to earn Index-Journal Player of the Year. McFaddin was last year’s Player of the Year, and James May earned the honor in 2017.
The Wildcats finished the first day at the state championship in 2017 tied for first place. Hepler said that year made for some of his best memories at Ninety Six.
“That’s the best team I think Ninety Six has ever had,” Hepler said. “James (May) and Skyler (McFaddin) and Gabe (Kelly) and all those guys, they were just fun to be around. We have been playing together our whole lives and it was great to finish it off like that.”
Duffie said he’s never coached a player with higher character than Hepler.
“He’s top-notch,” Duffie said. “He comes from a great family. ... He’s very humble, down to earth. He’s just an all-around good kid. There’s not a teacher or classmate or anyone that would come across Will and say anything bad about him.
“Even when he plays well or doesn’t play well, he’s cordial. The things you look for when you talk about high-character people, he’s all of them.”