Union Country Club is tough enough to play on a perfect day, but when course management wants to really toughen up the course, it can ratchet up the difficulty factor by making some really tough pin placements. Add in intermittent outbursts of rain, and it has all the makings of a tough outing.
That is what the nine teams faced that participated in the Saints Invitational on Wednesday, Aug. 8, and while the scores weren’t great, the chase for a title came down to two of the area’s best programs.
When the final stroke was recorded, Hiland had edged past Strasburg 322-324 to secure the championship. Hawks’ junior Bruce Yoder fired off a very strong 75 to grab medalist honors while Strasburg’s Mitch Neidenthal and West Holmes’ Carter Hahn were each one shot back at 76 to share runner-up honors.
This should be the first of a large number of battles between the Hawks and Tigers, who face each other in the Inter-Valley Conference, sectionals and districts and will see each other in some other tournaments this year.
“We knew this was going to be a battle with Strasburg, and we are going to see a lot more of each other all season long,” Hiland coach Austin Kaufman said. “Right now I think everyone is trying to solidify their starting team. This was one of a number of pretty tough outings we have played in this summer and early on, and these kinds of courses with good competition are only going to make us better in the long run.”
The top-two teams ran away from the field, and they also were playing together, which meant they knew pretty much where they stood throughout the day, or at least they knew it was going to be supremely close in the end.
St. Clairsville placed third at 330 with Dover falling in line next at 342. West Holmes placed fifth at 355. Dover’s Gabe Miller shot a 79 and was one of just six players to break 80 along with the top-three, St. Clairsville’s Brendan Vucelich and Mike Neidenthal of Strasburg, all of whom shot 79.
“It wasn’t a great day for me, but right now one of my goals is to work with my teammates because we are very inexperienced this year,” Miller said.
In addition to Yoder’s medalist score, Hiland received an 80 from Carter Mishler, an 83 from Brookston Hummel and an 84 from Kenny Miller. All three are freshmen who have shown they can play. Dylan Kaufman added an 87.
In addition to the Neidenthals, the Tigers got a strong 83 from fifth-man Ethan Cregan, an 86 from Calvin Willis and an 89 from DJ Seward.
Dover got good efforts from Cam Sproggins and Nate Kinsey, both of whom fired off 86s, while the Knights were aided by Evan Yoder’s 82 and Brett Mirich’s 95.
It wasn’t a terrific showing for the Knights, but head coach Isaac Haver is excited about what his team brings to the table this season.
“I think this team has some nice expectations with some strong talent coming back, starting with our seniors in Carter, Evan and Brett,” Haver said.
West Holmes also has some talented freshmen newcomers in Hunter Ellis and Brice Hunter. In addition West Holmes was without one of its key pieces last year in Gavin Christine, who is currently out with an injury.
“Our first few days of qualifiers we went beyond my expectations because we shot well lower than we did last year,” Haver said. “Evan and Carter are both such consistent kids who never get too high or too low. They are tremendous leaders and good examples for our younger kids.”
At a difficult Oak Shadows Golf Course a day earlier, Hahn logged a 78, and Yoder fired an 80 with a pair of double bogeys, so both are capable of posting strong numbers. Haver said all three of his seniors have taken huge steps up in their game, but he went on to say they are more than just good talent.
“They are great kids on and off the course, and they represent West Holmes so well,” Haver said.
The Knights’ coach also likes the demeanor of Ellis, who struggled to a 102 at Union C.C., but Haver said he has all the talent in the world to have a good year as a freshman.
“He is incredibly analytical, and he is a relentless worker who always listens to what we are trying to teach him,” Haver said. “You tell him to work on something, and he is going to stay focused on that until he gets it. With his swing, work ethic and temperament, there’s no reason why he can’t be in the low 40s every night out. I don’t think he realizes how good he is yet.”
Coming off of a state tournament that saw them earn fourth place in Div. III, the Tigers obviously are looking at some lofty goals, although they will have to replace a huge hole left by the graduation of number-one man Dylan Tucker, who is currently vying for a starting spot on the Marietta University varsity golf team.
Head coach Troy McClellan said right now they aren’t thinking about state titles and championships; they are simply trying to work through a path that will take them to more consistency.
“The bottom line for us right now is finding a fourth score,” McClellan said. “If we don’t have that consistently, it won’t matter.”
Strasburg has been shooting some fine numbers early on, firing off scores of 320, 315 and 324 on some very challenging courses at Shady Hollow, The Quarry and now Union Country Club.
“I’m happy. We just need to get a little tougher mentally,” McClellan said. “That’s not always easy, and it isn’t easy to get to where we were last year. If it was, everyone would be doing it. But overall I am pleased with where we are early on, and our goal is to just keep getting better as the year progresses. Hopefully at the end of September there are going to be several teams trying to get to state, and hopefully we’re one of those teams. It’s just a matter of each individual coming out and putting the time in to get better.”
McClellan went on to note that with the program’s recent success, expectations are high. He said while his team isn’t pleased with the 324 it posted at Union C.C., there are plenty of teams that would love to post that kind of number. That is simply the expectations the team now has.
“Our standards are higher, but we can’t let that get in the way of perfecting the mental part of our game,” McClellan said. “As for this, nobody remembers the scores of these early-season tournaments; they only remember the ones at the end.”
Other teams competing at the Saints Invitational included Claymont (362, led by Cameron Henry’s 82), Carrollton (378), Indian Valley (422) and Tuscarawas Central Catholic (423).