Singling out the Times Argus Golfer of the Year usually involves a simple glance at the numbers.
But for the second straight fall it was impossible to separate U-32’s Bryson Richards and Harwood’s Aidan Melville.
The seniors share the top honor again after blazing different paths toward similar success. Melville caught up with Richards last season and surpassed him for much of 2018, helping the Highlanders defend their Division II championship. Richards edged Melville by two shots at sectionals and was the definition of consistency all four years, firing rounds in the 60s or 70s for every 18-hole tournament.
“Aidan and Bryson are the top high school golfers in Central Vermont, unless you go back to (2006 Spaulding graduate) Eric Lajeunesse,” Harwood coach Brian McCarthy said. “But for Division II, they’re the best. And Aidan is the best golfer Harwood has ever had — bar none. His average was probably 3-under for the year, if not better. And it was classic watching him and Bryson compete for four years.
“Except for the shirts, you’d never know they were playing against each other. They’re out there playing a game they love and they’re just doing the best they can. As an adult coach who tries to get this game to everybody, that’s gold. That’s what I live for.”
During the first day of the season, Melville set a tournament record with a 6-under 66 at the North Country Invitational. Richards settled for a 67 after his birdie putt on the final hole barely missed the mark. Melville shot a 33 at the Country Club of Vermont and was medalist again on Sept. 12, firing a 30 to beat Richards by four shots at Stowe Country Club.
Richards finished with a 33 at Ryder Brook on Sept. 20, and a week later Melville shot a 34 at the same course. Richards claimed medalist honors during sectionals with a 1-under 71 at Rutland Country Club, where Melville shot a 73. A week later Melville had the upper-hand, pacing Harwood with a 2-under 70 during the state championships at the Country Club of Vermont. A 74 by Richards gave both golfers a ticket to the New England Championships next spring, and it also wrapped up a stretch of playing non-stop golf for seven months.
“Sometimes you feel like, ‘Wow, I need to take a break,’” Melville said. “And I did. Sometimes I took two-day breaks. But that was it. I really wanted to get right back out there.”
Three years ago, Melville was a talented freshman who carded more bogeys than pars, firing an 88 during states at Ralph Myhre. He stepped up with a 78 during states the following year at Vermont National. Known as a long-ball hitter with a delicate touch around the green, Melville shot a 71 during the 2017 state championships at Green Mountain National. He led the Highlanders to their first title since 2012, and their team total of 334 was 42 shots better than runner-up Lake Region. With the effort, Melville surpassed HU graduates Brooks Curran and Jarek Hammerl to become the No. 3 golfer in program history behind Stevie Maynard and Paul Weston.
This season he skyrocketed to the top, carrying the momentum from a 15th-place finish this summer at the Vermont Amateur. Melville aced the test all fall and Harwood emerged as a title favorite again behind solid depth from Nate Honeywell, Jon Honeywell, Liam Guyette and Jacob Green.
Rice surprised Melville and his teammates at sectionals, securing a 19-shot victory. But a week later the Highlanders shaved 37 strokes off their qualifying score to beat the Green Knights by 10 shots at states.
“I don’t think we were there mentally compared to Rice (at sectionals). It was kind of like, ‘All we have to do now is not get 7s or 8s.’ At that point for sectionals all you had to do was get top-six to make it. And we knew we were going to get a top-six,” Melville said.
Harwood’s four-person total of 314 strokes would have won the D-I championship by four shots. Nate Honeywell (73), Jon Honeywell (77) and Guyette (94) rounded out the Highlanders’ scoring.
“Nate was the only one I saw and he gave me a thumbs-up when I was on the sixth hole and he was on the seventh,” Melville said. “But that was it and I didn’t know anything. After Nate and Jon finally came in, I was so psyched — it was really cool to see. And especially Nate: He hadn’t broken 90 in a state championship. And to shoot as low as he did was awesome.”
Richards is a basketball standout in the winter but he literally grew up with a golf club in his hands. He shot a 42 as a 5-year-old and a 39 the following year. He hit a milestone with an even-par round of 35 as a 7-year-old and opened his high school career with a 5-under 30 at the Country Club of Barre.
Richards competed as an individual his freshman year and delivered a 76 during states. The Solons made a title run his sophomore season, finishing four strokes behind Rice after he fired a 69. Last season golf moved from a spring to a fall sport and Richards made the adjustment seamlessly, recording a 75 at states.
“I’ve had great teammates and a great coach. It’s crazy that it’s over and it kind of flew by. But it was a good career. And we’ve had a good team — it was just a couple shots here and there that could have helped us. We’ve been close and I’ve been proud to be part of it,” Richards said.
This year Richards was equal parts player and coach, especially with his younger brother Riley on the squad. He also helped twin brothers Jake and Josh Ehret elevate their games.
“This year I spent a lot of time with Jake and Josh, as well as my brother — just working with their skills. And in practice I give the beginners advice and try to keep it fun for them so they keep playing their next two or three years,” Richards said. “It’s just like basketball: When a kid’s struggling, you have to be there to pick him up.”
Richards excelled recently at the Vermont Amateur Championship, finishing third in 2017 and 11th this year. Next fall he plans to compete for the University of Rhode Island, which earned four tournament victories in 2016-17.
“It’s not in my backyard, but it’s close enough where if I want to come home on a weekend I can do that,” Richards said. “And we travel to South Carolina and Florida over winter break, so we’re playing all year-round. There’s a spring and fall season and they’re very competitive as far as Division I athletics. It’s serious.”