As the Georgia Southern golf team gathered in the clubhouse of Forest Heights Country Club Sunday afternoon — the Schenkel Invitational trophy in their hands for the first time in the tournament’s 35-year history — there was one Eagle on everyone’s mind.
Thomas Sharkey wasn’t able to sink a big putt, stick a close approach, or hoist the trophy for the Eagles, but anyone within the program will say that he was definitely in on the celebration.
Sharkey came to Georgia Southern from his home in Helensburgh, Scotland in 2009. After redshirting his first season in Statesboro, Sharkey competed in seven tournaments during the 2010-11 season, carding his best finish in the 2011 Schenkel Open.
Sadly, that season was Sharkey’s last.
On July 24, 2011, Sharkey — along with his father, Thomas Sr., and his sister, Bridget — was killed in an arson attack on his family’s home just two days before he was scheduled to compete in the Scottish Amateur.
His Eagle teammates have mourned his passing over the last three seasons.
Sunday, after what would have been his final round at the Schenkel in his senior season, Sharkey’s memory followed the Eagles over 18 holes of competition and a celebration that overflowed with emotion.
“We definitely shed a few tears,” GSU coach Larry Mays said. “Thomas was on our minds. I know that our seniors dedicated this tournament to him before we began play. It was great to sit around and share some Sharkey stories as we took it all in afterwards.”
The would-be senior still has three classmates on the Eagles’ roster. Drew Guffey played in the Schenkel as an individual while Hayden Anderson and Will Evans formed part of the Eagles’ five-man championship squad.
Anderson turned in the Eagles’ lowest individual round of the tournament with a 67 on Saturday while Evans finished his tournament at 3-under par.
During Saturday’s charge that put the Eagles into the lead for good, both Anderson and Evans recorded a hole-in-one.
“It was such an overwhelming feeling,” Anderson said. “We were in contention and I’m just trying to play a good round with so much going through my head.
“Around the 17th hole, someone told us that Georgia Southern had it pretty much wrapped up. That’s when you really start thinking about what us winning means and what it means to do it for Thomas.”
Sharkey’s mother, Angela, was the lone survivor of the attack and has remained close to the GSU golf family. While not in the country this time around, she was tracking the Eagles’ flight to a win.
“I was able to talk to Thomas’s mom a couple of days ago,” Anderson said. “I think she was more nervous than we were. She told me she just kept refreshing the leaderboard. I’m really glad we were able to win this one for her.”
As Angela Sharkey has remained in the GSU golf family, the program has done the same for her.
On a visit to Scotland shortly after Sharkey’s death, Mays travelled to Helensburgh and laid a Georgia Southern flag at a makeshift memorial site.
When Angela Sharkey visited Statesboro for the 2012 Schenkel, she was presented with a ring commemorating the Eagles’ 2011 Southern Conference championship team that her son would have been a part of.
As the Eagles cruised to victory Sunday, Angela was kept up to date through constant messages being sent over to Scotland.
“She told us that Sunday was one of the happiest days she’s had in a while,” Mays said. "I'm glad we could do that for her. I know that there was a lot of emotion flowing from us thinking about everything that this means."
Following Sharkey’s death, his name has remained a fixture in the locker room. His locker has remained untouched and this summer — following what would have been his final season with the Eagles — Sharkey’s nameplate will join those of other GSU golfers.
“That’s a promise I made to his mother,” Mays said. “He’s part of this team. After this season, he’ll stay here forever with everyone else who has come through here.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.