Lake area golfers representing Eldon, Versailles and Osage will tee off in their respective state tournaments on Monday and Tuesday and try to outplay some of the best golfers in the state of Missouri.
The final show of the year has arrived.
Lake area golfers representing Eldon, Versailles and Osage will tee off in their respective state tournaments on Monday and Tuesday and try to outplay some of the best golfers in the state of Missouri. Some have been there before and some will tee off on the biggest stage for the first time. An entire season full of hard work and dedication now boils down to pair of 18-hole outings when the first tees are struck Monday morning.
Eldon is back.
The Mustangs just missed out on reaching state a season ago, but it was a brief absence as the program not only reached the biggest stage this year but will represented by the entire team. There have been plenty of highlights along the way as Eldon finished the regular season 26-1, won the Tri-County Conference title, won a district title and finished second at a Class 2 sectional at Rolling Hills Country Club in Versailles by a single stroke to California.
The Mustangs put up a team score of 345 and by finishing as one of the top two teams at sectionals, all five Eldon golfers in sophomore Aidan Wells, senior Austin Kostelnik, senior Nick Willingham, senior Parker Dunham and junior Logan Schultz will get to take on the best in Missouri and now the time has come for the final show of the year. The Mustangs will fight for the Class 2 state title on Monday and Tuesday at Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield.
“We came back and worked harder than we did last year because we knew we had a chance of making it this year and we did,” Wells said.
“We saw we could do that. We won districts and that made us work harder because we knew we could win.”
And winning is something Eldon has clearly done plenty of on the links this year. Eldon coach Matt Frey said the path towards success began with some returning golfers who were committed to put in the work during the summer and that continued into the season making life a little bit easier on himself.
“It makes it nice because they are willing to stay late after practice and they always want perfection. With golf, I always say that it is a sport that will always be played and never be won so that is going to be good for them in the future to just keep grinding,” the coach stated. “A lot of them want to play into the future and college so that helps.
“They are just a good group of boys so I was really excited to have them all this year, see where they would go and they’ve done great.”
It also helps to have some good team chemistry and when teammates are friends it makes the chemistry even better. Golf can be a sport that emphasizes the individual, but the Mustangs have never really seen it that way. Whether it is pushing each other in practice, going fishing together and even coming out on the links on the weekends and playing a round just for fun, they know they are never alone.
“As players we have good chemistry together so we can work harder together and make each other better,” WIllingham said. “We have fun.”
That chemistry does not go away during actual competition either.
“We don’t ever get down and always fun when we see each other on the course. We’ll always talk to each other and see how we are doing,” Wells pointed out.
Dunham is certainly thankful for that. The senior noted that without having a bunch of good teammates around, he would not have a chance to play at state in his final season of high school golf.
“I did not make the individual cutoff so getting to go as a team is really cool. The team kind of carried me to state, but it is fun to be able to do it my senior year,” he said.
Frey is glad to see Dunham and his teammates get that kind of recognition and the community offering their congratulations. The coach noted that even the young Mustang golfers in the youth program are looking up to the state qualifiers.
“That is kind of cool and hopefully makes them want to continue to play golf and be a Mustang golfer one day,” Frey said.
The coach said the key to all of Eldon’s recent success, including a district title for the girls’ team this past fall and Kassidy Hull earning All-State honors, comes from that youth program he and Eldon Golf Club PGA Pro Mike Cummings sought to build up when Frey took the reigns of the program. Eldon golfers compete in the Missouri Junior Tour and Junior PGA League in Eldon and according to Frey there are 77 kids out playing golf.
“I really give a lot of credit to Mike Cummings here at the golf course. He and I sat down a few years ago when I took over and we kind of had a vision of where I wanted to go with the golf team,” the coach recalled. “I wanted to get it back in the spotlight with high school golf and we really put a lot of work in with the younger age group and it is starting to pay its dividends. Hopefully that will continue in the future.”
For now, there is a state title to go after on the par 72 course in Springfield. Frey said none of his golfers have played the course before, but they will get a practice round on Saturday.
“We are trying to simulate some of the holes they are going to have down there so we are playing for some different yardages and hitting different shots they are probably going to have to have in their bag there,” the coach stated. “Hopefully we can take what we are doing here to Springfield with us.”
However the tournament goes, the coach said the big lesson to take away from all this year’s success is to keep grinding and maintain that special team chemistry going forward.
“When one guy is kind of struggling the other guys have always picked them up and pulled their weight a little bit so that is always nice,” he pointed out.
Time to see how the final adventure plays out.
The home greens were kind to Bartlett who was nice and composed with an opportunity to go to state on the line.
Rolling Hills Country Club had practically become a second home to Bartlett who not only plays at the course, but also works there, and he certainly played like it in a Class 2 sectional by finishing fifth amongst a pool of 51 golfers to make the cut for state. Bartlett carded an 80 after 18 holes to finish 10-over-par and upon doing so he punched a third straight ticket to state.
“It felt pretty good. Obviously, playing at this course was a big advantage,” said Bartlett who noted that he was not too worried about making it to the final show.
I’m out here quite often so just playing a bunch and practicing, that is what got me here.”
It also helps when the nerves are not running high. In a sport that can create a lot of pressure on an individual, the veteran has learned how to have more fun and good things have happened as a result. Bartlett earned a 12th place finish at state last season that made him the first All-State Tiger since 2006 and he shot a 74 on his own course this year to win a district championship.
“If I’m not taking it as serious, I do play better,” said the senior who finished as a state qualifier for 75 percent of his career.
Versailles coach Kyle Nolawski does not disagree with that notion, noting that having fun as well as having a short memory after a bad hole were key to finishing one final season strong. Nolawski, who is in his first season coaching the Tigers, said learning to deal with that pressure was essential and everything else practically took care of itself.
“When you have someone like that it is pretty easy to be a golf coach because you can kind of sit there and just go, ‘Ok, today we are going to play.’ I think he makes a lot of people look really smart just because of his demeanor, how he acts and how he practices,” the coach said. “He knows his stuff.”
With as well as things went last year earning All-State honors, Bartlett said he got the feeling he belonged among the best golfers in Missouri and Nolawski said the senior’s example would be a good one to follow.
“You always want to have someone like him on your team. He works really hard, does exactly what you want him to do and the hours he puts in and all the things he does on and off the course, that is something you ask your other players to emulate a lot,” he remarked. “Having him as a person and a player, it is a great asset as a coach.”
But it is not just what Bartlett does on his own, but his role as a teammate. Nolawski pointed out that Bartlett has never made anything about himself and was always more focused on how his fellow Tigers were fairing on the links and what he could do to help the team overall. Making it to state is always a nice accomplishment, but the senior would much rather have a teammate playing alongside him like last year when fellow senior Garrrett Boatright also made it to state.
“I think that is the biggest part we want to take away from him is that it is never about him and because of that it drove him to work a little bit harder. He wants to be able to let the team ride on his shoulders a little bit and that is pretty special,” Nolwaski noted.
Bartlett will have to play this final outing as a Tiger on his own and he is not familiar with the links at Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield, but thankfully his coach is. The course is a par 72 and Bartlett has a practice round scheduled for Sunday afternoon before the action gets underway on Monday morning.
“I think I played it one year and it is a course that is easy to take advantage of if you know how. At the same time if you don’t, there is a lot of trouble luring in places so it will be a good test and a fun time,” Nolawski said. “I think he’ll do well because he is very technically sound. As long as he sticks to his plans, just has fun and does not try and press too hard, he should be ok.
“If by some happenstance the other players play worse, then hey we won, but we are just looking to have fun and send him out on a high note.”
Bartlett certainly does not plan to change up his routine and will stick to the same approach that brought him success. After all, a state medal from last season and a district title this season suggest there is not much of a reason to.
Time will soon tell what his final high school hurrah has to offer and however it goes, Bartlett plans to keep a positive mindset on the links. He advises the Versailles golfers who take their swings next season to do the same.
“For me personally, I think the worst thing you can do whenever you’re golfing is get down on yourself,” he said.
“I’ll get mad about a hole and then forget about it. I think that is the biggest thing I would pass down to them. Just take it off, forget about it and you’re good to go.”
Another shot at a state medal awaits.
Kline was on a mission.
After reaching state for the first time as a sophomore last season, he was not satisfied with the end result tying for 33rd so he wanted to come out on the links as a junior and prove he could do better.
Well, now he will get that chance after qualifying for his second consecutive state tournament. Kline posted a score of 80 to tie for fifth and finish eight-over-par in a Class 3 sectional at Briarbrook Golf Club in Carl Junction to do so and there were a few factors that made it a reality
“A lot of it was between the ears. I continued to practice and it was more or less just fine-tuning, growth spurts, finishing and being more than myself in the game,” the junior said of improving his craft.
“Every day on the course is different and you just work to be more consistent. That kind of competitiveness and drive to be better is what keeps me going.”
That kind of outlook and approach to the game was something Osage coach L.J. Weeks was more than happy to see and he pointed to the junior’s mental game as a big difference from last season.
“There is a difference between just playing the game and then learning how to win. The ability to go win and having the mindset of winning is different and something you have to learn how to do,” the coach said. “I think this year he allowed himself to go win and that is a big difference.”
There was a stretch during the season where Kline won five straight events between tournament play and 9-hole matches and Weeks said that was no accident. Perhaps it is no surprise that Kline is back at state and the coach noted that the junior’s work ethic is something others could learn from.
“The good players play year round. They are playing all summer, always practicing and that is what it takes to get to this level,” he said of making the cut for state. “The players that lay a couple months out of the year, you don’t see the improvement of someone like Ethan. It is a year round thing that you have got to keep doing.”
But even then, making it to the final tournament of the year is no guarantee.
“Any player that has been to state will tell you it is difficult to get there. Getting through districts is a challenge and then really getting through sectionals, it seems a lot of times the sectionals we are always in tends to have a pretty low cut,” Weeks pointed out. “So, getting through that and making it to state is a huge accomplishment so it is great for him and our school. It is the fourth year in a row we’ve had a player at state so it is good to keep that rolling.”
Jakob Krantz, a 2018 Osage graduate, carried that torch early on for the Indians and came away with a state medal and All-State honors. That torch passed on to Kline who is now hoping to do the same when he tees off at Columbia Country Club in the Class 3 State Tournament on Monday and Tuesday.
“Jacob was a great ambassador for us,” Weeks remarked. “Now with Ethan, and I think Jacob’s younger brother Zach is going to be in that mix in the coming years, it is awesome as a coach to go do that and see your kids play at the highest level. It is about them. Honestly, at this level, there is not a lot the coach does other than drive them to the course and with them luck.”
Kline said the butterflies on the first tee at state will likely never go away, but he now has the experience and confidence as a returning state qualifier and feels more like he belongs among the best in Missouri. Kline had the privilege of playing the par 72 course in Columbia during a tournament last summer and although the course comes with its challenges, he is feeling good about the road ahead.
“I feel like where I am mentally with my game is a lot better than last year, but towards the end of this year I struggled on the greens a little. If I make a few adjustments, make sure I don’t over-read the greens and get my form a little better I think I’ll do well,” Kline said.
Weeks is optimistic about the junior’s prospects at state as well. If the course is not very long, the coach said it plays to Kline’s advantage.
“That helps Ethan because Ethan has so many weapons off the tee. He can hit his driver a mile, but he does not have to,” Weeks said. “He can take an iron out of his bag and hit it as far as a lot of guys will hit their driver. It gives him a lot of options depending on how his game is that day.”
However things play out during the two-day tournament, Kline will not forget the supporting cast that has been there every step of the way.
“I want to thank my coach for helping me get here and everyone that supported me whether it be my teammates for my family,” he said.