STOCKTON -- The prospect of playing The Reserve at Spanos Park was something that hung over Sam Smith's head last weekend.
"I wasn't looking forward to it," said Smith, a Turlock High junior. "This course just doesn't set up very well for me. I'd never broken 80 here before."
That changed Monday after the first hole, a 327-yard par-4 where he made a mid-range putt for birdie. While Smith didn't have his best day at The Reserve -- he put two balls into the water on the back nine -- it was good enough for the medalist honor at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South Boys Golf Championships.
Smith, whose 3-under-par 69 gave him a four-stroke victory, supplied one of several Stanislaus District highlights:
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Los Banos' Bobby Park and Buhach Colony's Teddy Schrier were in the same foursome and each shot 75 to advance to masters.
Smith played The Reserve twice before, limping out with an 83 and 81. To make matters worse, he didn't have his best ball-striking day Monday.
"But I got up and down, and I made a bunch of putts," Smith said. "I got in trouble a couple of times off the tee, but I did well after that."
He closed his round with a flourish on the 375-yard par-4 No. 18. With water on his right, Smith drove the ball 300 yards along the left side of the fairway. He put a wedge to within 8 feet, making his putt as the small gallery applauded the bookend birdie.
Now, Smith is on to Stevinson Ranch, a course he counts among his favorites.
"I love that course," Smith said. "It sets up for me much better than this one. Hopefully, I can keep going."
Park and Schrier had an enjoyable day playing in the same group.
"We've played together several times," Schrier said. "We definitely pushed each other out there."
Schrier shot an even-par front nine -- three strokes ahead of Park.
"I knew he was three strokes up on me," Park said. "Then I made birdies on 11 and 12, and they really got me going. Four birdies on the back, I'm pretty happy with that."
He shot an even-par back nine to even up with Schrier. They were the top two individuals not on the top three teams -- St. Mary's, Turlock and Tracy.
"We had a good time, and it was nice that we both played well," Park said.
Now, they're on to the more familiar Stevinson Ranch. It's Park's home course, and Schrier used to work there.
"I couldn't be happier that we're at Stevinson next week," Schrier said. "I love that place."
Covrig was the only golfer from the Modesto Metro Conference to advance. He was cruising ... up until that pesky 17th hole.
"I took a triple on 17; that was my only big mistake," said Covrig, who advanced to his second consecutive masters tournament. "I played OK; I did what I had to do, just kept making pars."
Gilbert was one of the final golfers to find out he was going to Stevinson. His 78 meant he waited by the leaderboard, looking for any scores that could have knocked him out.
"I played at The Reserve once before. It wasn't pretty," Gilbert said. "But I got hot early on and just stayed with it. I'm pretty happy with a 78."
He has another chance to shine next week at Stevinson. He, like the other district golfers, is familiar with the course.
"Our No. 2 golfer, Griffin Kelley, his father (George) owns the course," Gilbert said. "We've been out there a lot. Hopefully, there will be a comfort level."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.