The Grind, presented by Bank of Clarendon: Sumter High's Ardis puts everything together for stellar senior year


Golf is a sport of fine details.

Every single swing can be undone by moving a hair too fast or dropping your hips ever so slightly. A centimeter can be the difference between dropping a chip five feet from the hole or slicing a shot 30 yards over the green.

For some golfers, those fine details can lead you down a frustrating rabbit hole. As he's grown up in the sport, Sumter High School senior Hayden Ardis learned the hard way that sometimes it's best to have a short memory.

Hayden has grown a lot in his five years on the varsity golf team. Some of that was literal, as he sprouted up about 8 inches midway through his career at SHS. But his biggest strides were internal. With the help of a few influential golfers in town, Hayden learned there's no point in seeking perfection in a sport like golf.

"Mentally, I'd get so down on myself, thinking that I have to play every shot perfectly," the senior said. "Finally figuring out that you're not gonna have every shot perfectly and you've gotta play your misses, that's what's really helped me put up some numbers this year."

With that in mind, Hayden put together a senior year worth remembering. He consistently trimmed down his scores against increasingly strong competition and punched his ticket to state for the first time in his career. Now he's preparing to head to Columbia College to continue his career on the course.

Hayden's dad, Stan, had a front-row seat for his rise through high school golf. He was overjoyed that his son finally learned the lesson that every great golfer has to embrace one way or another.

"It didn't surprise me. I was overjoyed, but it didn't surprise me because I knew it was there. He just had to get out of his own way," Stan said of the run Hayden had this spring. "He had to know he could do it and not worry about every golf shot being perfect. He just had to go out and play golf."


Hayden has played golf for most of his life. His dad and uncle Mike Ardis are avid golfers. Mike runs Crystal Lakes Golf Course at Dillon Park, so Hayden always had an outlet for the game.

But Hayden didn't fully dive into the sport until he was in eighth grade. Growing up, he was passionate about baseball but started to make a change as he got closer to high school. Once he flipped the switch, it was all golf all the time.

"I'd just always go out there and just hack it around and not care as much," Hayden said of his early days in the sport. "When I really started getting into it, I figured out how much time it was gonna take, and I was willing to do it, but there was a lot of grinding going on."

Hayden joined the golf team as an eighth-grader, but that didn't last long. COVID-19 struck, erasing all but one tournament. A year of isolation was difficult for many athletes, but one of the sports that actually got a boost was golf. With wide-open spaces and small groups, it wasn't difficult to get on the course. Without anything else to do, Hayden locked in on golf.

"Every day," Hayden said of how often he golfed in 2020. "I was going as much as I could get out. I'd get my dad to take me whenever he'd leave for work at 7:30, go there, be there all day till 5, come home and kind of repeat."

Stan also had some extra time to hit the links, so he was able to play a hands-on role in Hayden's first major leap on the course.

"That was great for us because we got to play a lot together," Stan said. "I was off a lot, and the only place we could go was to the golf course."

Hayden improved exponentially during that year, though maybe not in the way he'd hoped. He stood around 5'4" and hadn't yet hit triple digits on the scale.

"My first high school tournament, I hit driver on three out of four par threes," he recalled.

But Stan still saw Hayden's development, even if he wasn't bombing drives 300 yards.

"We saw it before he did. He was still getting mad about things, but we saw the fundamentals were there; he just had to grow," Stan said. "I was that way when I was younger. I wanted to hit it further, and my pro told me back then, 'You stay on the practice green chipping and putting. The length will come when you get older,' and it did."


As Hayden transitioned from sophomore to junior, he finally got that growth spurt that he was waiting for, but it wasn't all it was cracked up to be initially.

"The worst thing was that he almost couldn't handle that difference from the get go," Stan said of his son growing about 8 inches. "His golf game was, 'What do I do from way up here?' But he worked on it. He loves the game."

It was a frustrating period for Hayden, but Stan tried to use it as a learning experience.

"His temper is a little spotty, just like mine was and still is a little bit," Stan said. "The only thing I tell him is that I don't want him to get mad, but I want him to not be really happy about a bad golf shot. I don't think you can improve when you play with a bad golf shot. You've gotta be a little disgusted, so that you can think about it the next time you take that shot and what you need to do (to improve)."

As a junior, Hayden started to find some great resources in the sport. He turned to a few experts from the area. One was Cody Clepper, a former SHS golfer who went on to golf at Limestone. He also worked with Colin Floyd, who golfed collegiately at Francis Marion. The pair helped him learn how to maneuver around the golf course. He was able to shift his attention away from just trying to hit the ball as far as possible.

"They've just kind of been mentors," Hayden said. "Trying to tell me practice routines and what I should go out and do. Instead of always trying to go out here and play, to spend time practicing putting on the green, hitting balls."

"It's a lot harder for the dad to do that because he doesn't want to listen to what Dad has to say," Stan joked about the lessons Hayden was able to learn from fellow local golfers.

Clepper became a sounding board after every tournament. They'd chat on the phone about what went right and what went wrong. Hayden was also able to work on what has developed into his favorite shot right in Clepper's backyard.

"His parents have a green in their backyard, and it's an 85-yard shot. I've got over there and practiced many times," Hayden said. "Both days in the state championship, on the same exact hole, I had 85 yards, and I said, '[Gamecock head coach Jeff] Schaffer, this is perfect.' Both days, I hit it up there, made the putt, made a birdie."

Hayden has also gotten closer with Josh Montgomery, the brother of reigning World Series champion Jordan Montgomery. Through that relationship, Hayden has learned the importance of keeping a mental edge throughout difficult tournaments.

"He's walked through golf rounds with me and just tried to help me out mentally because that's been the only thing holding me back," Hayden said. "After golf tournaments, I'm tired physically, but it's really not [that]. It's just mentally. It beats you down to the ground. Golf's one of the most mental sports that I've ever played."

The SHS senior also devoted more time to tournament action outside of the high school season. Gamecock head coach Jeff Schaffer said Hayden looked different as a senior because he wasn't intimidated by the level of competition.

"Once you start playing tournament golf, having that pressure, that's when you start to see what a person is going to be made of," Schaffer said. "By playing those tournaments last summer and the summer before, I think that gave him a little bit of confidence going into this season to be able to compete with the guys that are the better players in the state."


Hayden really started to see things fall into place this spring. His first milestone came in the Hurricane Invitational in Easley. Hayden finished sixth in a stacked field, shooting under par in a competition for the first time in his career.

"Shot 71 the first day and should have done it the second day, but I kind of choked it out," Hayden admitted. "I still had a good finish, shot even par for the tournament. That was kind of where I figured out that I know I have it, and mentally I was there that whole two days."

He only kept growing from there. After finishing in a tie for third place in Region V-5A, Hayden and the Gamecocks traveled to Prestwick Country Club in Myrtle Beach for the lower state tournament on May 6. That proved to be one of his most taxing days of golf both on and off the course.

The round of golf was as up and down as they come. After a solid start, Hayden imploded slightly on his eighth hole, shooting a 10 to watch his score balloon.

"I'm thinking, 'Hayden, you've done this before, don't self-destruct,'" Hayden recalled. "Then I went and made a birdie on the next hole, finished four over on that side, parred one, birdied two, parred three and then made a double (bogey) on four. That's when I kinda mentally checked out. In my mind, I've grinded this far, it's just so hard to keep grinding and keep that positive attitude. I'm walking down that last hole, he's just over there walking, and I'm so down on myself."

When Hayden finished his round with an 81, he thought his high school career was done. Stan wasn't able to make the trip down to Myrtle Beech, so Hayden ribbed his dad for missing his final round.

"He got mad at me because he didn't shoot a score that he thought was going to make it to state," Stan said. "He texted me and said, 'Thanks for coming to my last golf tournament for high school ever.'

Hayden sat on the porch at Prestwick dejected. After about 20 minutes of moping, his coach came over with a message.

"You might wanna hit balls," Hayden recalled Schaffer telling him on the porch. "I was like, 'What are you talking about?' He said the winds picked up and the rain's coming, so scores are coming in pretty high."

Hayden went from depression to hitting the driving range thinking that he might need to go into a playoff to earn a trip to state. As it turns out, he didn't need to warm up. His score of 81 was good enough to advance without a playoff. Stan thought his son learned an important message from the mentally taxing afternoon.

"That taught him to never give up," Stan said. "That was kind of a good thing and a bad thing. He learned a lesson, I know that, to fight all the way to the end."

Suddenly Hayden had another week left in his high school career, so he went to work.

"At lower state, I did not hit the ball well, so I really mainly hit balls instead of going out there to practice putting and chipping, which I should have," Hayden said of his preparation leading up to his first 18 holes on May 13. "Just practiced as much as I could. I went over there Thursday with Schaffer to Lexington to play a practice round. I didn't play good, but I played all right. Kind of got a feel of the golf course. I felt pretty confident going in."

Right off the bat, Hayden struggled. He bogeyed his first three holes, but he bounced back with a couple of birdies to right the ship. Everything was going swimmingly until he went bogey, double bogey on consecutive holes.

"That's where I mentally checked out because then I started pressuring myself, trying to make so many birdies, and it was not good," he said.

Hayden shot an 80 on his first 18 and thought that may be it. There was some terrible weather in the forecast, but the course was dry enough to play one more round. A rocky first day was freeing in a way. He no longer felt like he needed to seek perfection.

"It was just have fun, enjoy it as much as I could," he said. "I told my coach on probably ninth or 10th hole, 'This is my last high school round, let's just have a good time, make some putts.' Just kind of enjoy it as much as I could, and I did."

It wasn't a perfect round, but Hayden finished strong. He shot two birdies and a par on his final three holes as a Gamecock. As he walked up his final fairway, he could feel five years of golf rushing over him. His parents watched from the gallery as Schaffer and Hayden made their final stroll side by side.

"Just talking about old times and kind of where else life's gonna take me," Hayden said of how he spent that final walk to the green. "There was another senior playing in my group, and we kind of bonded over that on that last hole. It was fun, kind of tried to enjoy it and soak in as much as I could.

"I wish I could've ended it on a birdie," Hayden added after finishing with a 78 in his final round at SHS.


Hayden's golf career didn't end with that stroll down a fairway at Lexington Country Club.

The Gamecock senior will play for Tom Mason at Columbia College next year. Mason has known both Schaffer and the Ardis family for years. He runs the Par Tee Golf Center in Lexington and organized several tournaments Hayden has played in. Those tournaments actually got the ball rolling in Hayden's commitment to Columbia College.

"I'll never forget it," Hayden said.. "I was playing in one of his tournaments, and I hit one OB (out of bounds), and he had to ride me back up there. I was like, 'Hey, if you need someone to come play for you next year, I'm there.' So that's kind of where it started with kind of getting that interaction."

Mason has given lessons to Hayden, Stan and Mike, so they were very comfortable sending Hayden to Columbia College.

"He's got a care for young kids," Stan said of Mason. "We feel like he might be able to go to the next level, and because Tom is such a good guy, he cares and he's going to do whatever it takes. He's not going to be looking out for his golf team, he's looking out for Hayden, and that's what makes it all worthwhile."

Schaffer is confident that Hayden will continue his path of consistent growth in college.

"As he gets into the college ranks and works on his game, starts managing his way around the golf course, his best golf is ahead of him," said the Gamecock head coach.

Hayden hopes that he keeps finding ways to continue his career, but he's also aware that golf requires more than hard work. You need to catch a break or 20.

"Everyone wants to get the green jacket, but not many people make it," Hayden said of his golf aspirations. "It's just so hard to make it to that next level above college, go to the PGA and Korn Ferry. Also, a lot of money to get in on those tournaments.

"As much as I'd love to, I'm just kind of go and feel it out in the first two years of college and see how the game progresses. And if it does and the coach thinks I have a chance, then definitely I'll stick with it."