A Love for Special Students and the March to a State Championship
By By Bob Denney PGA Historian Emeritus
Cox Mill High School’s Lady Chargers, the reigning Class 3A North Carolina girls’ golf champions, will represent the Tar Heel State in the High School Golf National Invitational, Aug. 3-5, in Pinehurst.
How they arrived at this lofty summit is a tale of course management of the human kind.
It began four years ago when Cox Mill’s golf coach left. Moses Smith, then the school’s girl’s basketball coach and a Teacher Assistant working with students with autism, was asked to take the job. After talking it over with his wife, he accepted and went to a school of his own, visiting the PGA Merchandise Show last January to a coaches’ seminar to learn about the sport he had only played occasionally.
In 2017, Smith’s second season, PGA Master Professional Jim Lohbauer enrolled his daughter, Elizabeth, as a freshman at Cox Mill. Smith waited a year before recruiting Jim Lohbauer, convincing him to be an assistant coach. Their partnership blossomed.
“Having Jim around helped me as a coach,” said Smith, now 61. “I wanted to do something to help the kids with course management. So, I studied that and made that my focus. And Jim helped me with more technical elements of the game, along with the Rules and helping with the girls’ golf swings.”
That same year, sophomore Hailey Ellis stopped dancing, discovered she had rhythm swinging a golf club, and joined the team. By her senior year, she was elected team captain.
The new coaches and new players fit together like pieces in a giant puzzle. In 2017 and ’18, they were conference champions, regional champions in ’18 and ’19, and North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) 3A state runner-up in 2018.
The Lady Chargers were knocking on the door, but couldn’t walkthrough. That all changed on October 28, 2019.
“We worked really hard this past season and we had it in our heads that we were going to win the state championship,” said Ellis, who will compete next fall at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
To close the deal, the Lady Chargers voted unanimously to do something unusual: They would close their eyes and ears to the scoreboard and social media. Something that took monumental mental discipline for a group of modern teenagers.
In the first round of the state tournament, they built a three-stroke team lead at Foxfire Resort & Golf Club in Jackson Springs, North Carolina. But they didn’t know that, since they didn’t look at the scoreboard.
“We didn’t want it to get in our heads,” said current senior Elizabeth Lohbauer. “We all went in with a good mindset and ready to play our hearts out.’’ Lohbauer opened with a 73, then finished with a competitive-best 70 to grab medalist honors.
All five Lady Chargers contributed to the team total, a 14-stroke victory over three-time defending state champion Rockingham County.
“When I walked off at 18, I was greeted with ‘We’ve won!’ said Lohbauer. “I was not expecting it all. ”
“I was nervous thinking about playing my last hole of high school golf,” said Captain Ellis. “Obviously, I didn’t know at the time we were going to nationals.”
The Lady Chargers let their emotions out on the bus ride home.
“We had a big speaker boombox playing and we were screaming, shouting and dancing all the way,” said Elizabeth. “Coach Smith was really getting into it as well.”
The coaching bond between Jim Lohbauer, a 43-year-old Assistant PGA Professional at Charlotte Country Club, and Smith continues to blossom. “As coach, I took note of what we were doing at each match, and we sat down later to go over my observations,” said Smith.
Lohbauer said that Smith’s success with teaching Special Needs students transfers outside the classroom.
“He’s got a gift inside him,” said Lohbauer. “It carries over to the girls. He’s very easy to talk to; he’s got the warmest smile and a great caring personality. He has a little tough side to him where he can hold them accountable, but he’s like a big Teddy Bear to them.
“We have always worked together so well the past three years. He’s the true leader of the team. I’m just there to support and help in any way I can.”
Smith said his passion to work with Special Needs students has carried over to coaching. “I have learned to have patience,” he said. “With Special Needs, every day is a different day. It also works In golf. Every day is not a perfect day.”
Smith’s athletes frequently visited his classroom to meet his students and play games.
“I hung out often at Coach Mo’s room,” said Ellis. “They are amazing kids and he does a great job with them. They adore him. He has a great heart and he also is a great coach.”
The Lady Chargers also have brought attention to a town of 94,000. They will proudly carry the North Carolina banner in a field featuring golfers from some 40 states.
“It’s incredible how much talent there is in one little town,” said Elizabeth. “I feel honored and I’m excited for what is to come at the nationals and for this season.”
According to Elizabeth’s father, there is “no hiding some natural talent. We had a strong base of girls. One thing that I noticed when it is time for the season, they’re very close. There’s a great team bond. They challenge each other and they work very hard. It is self-motivating. We create little internal challenges along the way and keep them sharp and on their toes.
“Their commitment as a team is what sets them apart. We have seen great players at State, but not great teams.”
For Moses Smith, building a state champion team began when the athletes came to visit Special Needs students.
“I believe that the girls found the bond to build a team by coming into my classroom to meet kids who can’t do the same things that they can,” said Smith. “It inspired them to be better than what they imagined.”
PGA of America
Experts on the business and game of golf. The best coaching tips and latest golf news delivered straight to you. Sign Up to get the latest.