May 15, 2023

Ponte Vedra's Brock Blais is Times

There isn't much that can interrupt Brock Blais' concentration on the golf course — except the sight of wildlife such as a particularly chubby duck or goose.

"He couldn't resist stopping to watch," said Ponte Vedra High boys golf coach Mickey Leapley. "Then he'd say something like, 'boy, I wish it was hunting season and I had my gun right now.'"

The senior would then turn his attention back to the golf course and shoot birdies of a different kind. The golf version of fowl came fast and furious during a season in which Blais won the Region 1-2A tournament and the Class 2A state tournament, leading the Sharks to their sixth consecutive state championship and their eighth overall, both state records.

Blais added a tie for third in the District 3-2A tournament and posted three of four under-par rounds in the FHSAA post-season.

He finished fourth in the Class 2A iWanamaker rankings, behind teammates Carson Brewer and Camden Smith but clearly saved his best for last: capturing the state tournament at the Mission Inn Resort Las Colinas Course in five playoff holes against Chase Carroll of Middleburg after both finished 36 holes at 1-under 143.

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The individual state championship, the third for a Ponte Vedra High player and the eighth by a First Coast player in the last decade, earned Blais the Times-Union's boys high school golf player of the year.

Blais also was named the Florida Dairy Farmers Florida "Mr. Golf," for the 2022 season.

Because of Hurricane Nicole, Class 2A was the only state tournament that went all 36 holes, with the 3A and 1A tournaments for both boys and girls shortened to 18 holes.

Blais needed 41 to win his state title, with a two-putt birdie at the last to defeat Carroll.

"That was fun," Blais said. "I had never played with Chase before. I tried to treat it just like playing a few holes of the first round of a tournament — tried not to put pressure on myself."

But the most dramatic moment of the day came on the final hole of regulation. Blais had lost a one-shot lead with three holes to play and fell one shot behind Carroll. He found himself short of the 18th green, with the ball sitting in some soft, wet grass, and needing a chip-in birdie to tie Carroll.

"That was when I felt the most pressure," he said. "I knew the team had already won the state and I wasn't doubting myself but I knew if I wanted to have a chance to get into a playoff, I needed a miracle. All I could do was pick out a landing spot and try to hit that spot."

He hit the spot and the ball hit the hole.

"When it went in, that was the most exciting moment of my life."

Asked how many times he thought he could replicate the shot, given 100 attempts, he said, "maybe I get a handful of them close."

Brock Blais isn't the classic country club type, although his father, Greg, spent time on the Mississippi State golf team and was an assistant pro before getting into the real estate business.

Blais is a self-described country boy from Valdosta, Ga., and a former kicker for the Valwood School football team, who describes a perfect day as going duck hunting at 4 a.m., followed by 18 holes of golf.

He spent a lot of time on South Georgia golf courses with PGA Tour winners Sepp Straka and Brice Garnett, Straka's brother Sam (both played at the University of Georgia), trying to soak up as much of their experience as he could.

But Blais said his real dream is to one day go hunting or fishing with two other former Georgia Bulldogs, Brian Harman and Kevin Kisner, who are among the most avid outdoorsmen on the PGA Tour.

"I love anything to do with being outdoors, and if I can hunt, then go play golf, it's the perfect day," he said.

Golf, hunting and fishing are normally three activities passed along from father to son. But Greg Blais, oddly enough, said putting a set of plastic golf clubs in his son's hands when he was 2 years old was the extent of his contribution to his son's first loves.

"I am not a sportsman ... never did much of that," said Greg Blais, who left the golf business to form Rise Real Estate. "Brock had friends in Valdosta who got him involved in that. He started tagging along with me at the driving range when I was at the Valdosta Country Club and he had a beautiful swing almost from the beginning. He has natural ability. Members would stop and watch him swing when he was 5 years old."

Brock is content with his father introducing him to golf.

"He's a city boy anyway," Brock joked about his father's Boston roots.

Brock Blais also mixed football with golf and the outdoors and kicked at Valwood for two years. His career-long field goal was 43 yards.

"I really miss the Friday Night Lights," he said. "There was nothing like running out of the tunnel with my teammates before the games. Football was it in Valdosta ... Winnersville."

Blais found a different kind of Winnersville when his family moved to Ponte Vedra Beach prior to his junior year in 2021.

When his father started talking to people familiar with the First Coast golf scene at trips with Brock to junior tournaments during the summer, he heard some interesting comments.

"People would ask where Brock was going to school and when I told them Ponte Vedra, they'd say, 'well, good luck ... hope he makes the team.'" Blais said. "I thought Valwood had a pretty good golf team. Brock played with a couple of Division 1 players and had success in junior golf. But the more we learned about the Ponte Vedra program, the more we found out how elite it is. Someone else told me, 'the toughest tournament those kids play all year is the team qualifier.' We found out that was very true."

Brock Blais gave some thought to also trying out for the Sharks' football team but when he found out about Davis Ashcroft, Ponte Vedra's kicker, he turned his attention to golf.

"I wasn't going to beat him out," Blais said.

But he didn't think it was going to be easy to make the Sharks starting five. It helped that he already knew one of the players, 2021 Times-Union player of the year Carson Brewer, from playing in junior events in the South, and Brewer eased Blais into their golf and social circles.

"Carson was awesome in helping me get acclimated to Ponte Vedra," he said. "He must have spent a whole week giving me the tour."

But friendship is one thing. Earning a spot on the Sharks power-packed lineup was going to be another and at Ponte Vedra, it's every man for himself.

"I knew I had to perform," Blais said.

Greg Blais and Leapley said Brock rose to the challenge.

"He's got a competitive fire in him and we haven't tried to temper that," Greg Blais said.

Leapley simply stood back and watched Blais post one good score after another in practice rounds and finally the team qualifiers. When the dust settled, Blais earned a starting spot as a junior and went on to capture the individual district title with a 68, tie for third in the region with a 69 and tie for 33rd in the state tournament.

Along the way, the country boy from South Georgia found a way to fit in with the Ponte Vedra country club set.

Leapley said it was almost comical to see Blais arrive for a tournament or a team practice.

"He'd drive up in his Jeep, blasting country music, and jump out wearing jeans and cowboy boots," Leapley said. "But then he'd change into the right golf clothes and he'd look the part of a golfer."

Then came a day when several of Leapley's teammates showed up wearing boots.

"They went out and bought them," Leapley said. "I think that showed how they felt about Brock."

Leapley also found out that Blais was a different sort of golfer. Coaches and sports psychologists stress maintaining an even keel, not getting too high or too low, visualizing shots, taking them one at a time ... the whole laundry list of how not to be emotional.

Blais will never be accused of being a flat-liner.

"The first thing you noticed about him is how far he hit the ball," Leapley said. "He's 5-foot-8 on a good day and he was hitting it past everyone. And he has no fear of a shot. He never backs down. He'd have a sticky shot off the green, and there would be the safe option and the risky option. He'd tell me, 'I can just flop it and get it close,' and take the risky option. Then he'd pull it off, give a fist pump and just laugh."

He said Blais thrives on "a wave of emotions ... the more drama, the better for him. He's got a way about him, a charisma, no fear."

Blais said the challenge of making the eight-time state championship program only fueled his competitive instincts.

"There was something special here and I wanted to contribute any way I could and do my part to help the team keep having success," he said. "I wouldn't have wanted to win two state titles with any other group of guys. It's the best high school team in the country. I'll believe that my whole life. And coach Leapley is the best. We're prepared and he gives us whatever we need to be successful."

Other Ponte Vedra seniors have signed to play for golf powerhouses and programs close to the First Coast: Brewer to Florida State, Smith to Georgia, Stefan Ink and Danny Erickson to the University of North Florida and Rohan Singh to Mercer.

Blais, in no surprise, is forging a different path, going west to Texas-San Antonio. But there's a good reason -- he was recruited to Louisville by coach Matt Wernecke, and will follow Wernecke to UTSA.

"It's a long way away but his mom and I allowed him to make a decision best for him, in his mind," Greg Blais said. "He spent time with their coaches, saw their facilities and their home course is the TPC San Antonio. There are a lot of positives."

Blais doesn't plan to back down now. The door will be open next season in San Antonio, with three of the starting five departing after this spring.

It will be one more step in Blais' life in golf. As he told Chase Carroll when the team shook hands on the tee to begin their five-hole playoff for the state title, "Let's have fun. It took a journey for us to get here."

Brock Blais will always be up for the journey ... and the fun.

First team

Second team: Carson Brewer (senior), Ponte Vedra; Nolan Harper (junior), Beachside; Tyler Mawhinney (freshman), Fleming Island; Miles Russell (eighth), Providence; Camden Smith (senior), Ponte Vedra.

Third team: Luke Balaskiewicz (sophomore), Bolles; Cameron Goldknopf (junior), Episcopal; Stefan Ink (senior), Ponte Vedra; Colton Swartz (senior), Fleming Island; Cody Tucker (senior), Bishop Kenny.

All-First Coast girls swimming: All-First Coast girls cross country: All-First Coast boys cross country: First team Second team: Third team: