Heading into day two of the 2018 OHSAA Div. III state golf tournament at NorthStar Golf Course in Sunbury, the Hiland Hawks were engaged in a tight battle for third place with Canton Central Catholic.
The Hawks, who were fourth heading into the day, just five shots in back of CCC, were forced to play in the penultimate group, ahead of the final group that made up the top-three teams vying for the Div. III title.
All one needs to know about this Hiland team is that almost immediately following their day-two effort they were up on the practice green, totally unaware and even somewhat uncaring as to whether CCC would beat them for third place or not. Simply put, third place was not their objective.
“We didn’t play well, and it really doesn’t matter if we get third or fourth because we didn’t play as well as we had hoped to play,” said one-man Bruce Yoder, whose 82-81-163 score led Hiland to an eventual fourth-place finish just two shots behind Central.
The Hawks will head home in fourth place, and while that is an accomplishment of note, it will only drive this group toward what they hope are greater things next season.
“These guys definitely had much higher expectations,” said head coach Austin Kaufman, who brought two juniors and three freshmen to the big show, so all five of his top players will return next season.
“The 334 was our highest 18-hole score this season. I think the greens are what elevated our score the most. We had a lot of three putts and put ourselves on the wrong side of the pin too often and left ourselves in bad position. We hit some solid shots and maybe were a bit too aggressive at times, but we had a game plan and stuck to it for the most part. We just didn’t execute shots the way we needed to and ended up with too many doubles and triples, and this course isn’t very forgiving.”
Coach Kaufman said they would have coveted that third-place spot after day one so they could go head to head with the top teams on day two, but that didn’t happen. They still showed up at NorthStar on Saturday before the break of dawn to prepare to do their best.
“We were consistent on both days. We were just a little out of character, and it cost us,” coach Kaufman said. “It was nice to get over the hump and make it here, and this finish only fires us up even more to get back to state next year.”
The Hawks had come into the state tournament with huge hopes of competing for a title, but that went out the window on day one when Hiland’s 334 left them far off the pace of Wellington, which fired a single-day record 295.
When day two was over, Wellington’s score of 610 was a new Div. III state record, and even runner-up Brookfield’s score of 617 had shattered the old record.
While each of the five Hiland players said they had a fun time making it to state and playing on the big stage, they all said they felt unsatisfied with how they had competed and finished, starting with Yoder, who has been consistently in the 70s all year.
“It was fun getting here, but we are really competitive, so we wanted to win or at least get second,” said Yoder, who finished in 15th place overall. “The greens were tough, and I don’t think our course management helped us, but at least we got a taste and know what to expect now moving forward.”
While NorthStar is long and utilizes pro-style greens, Dylan Kaufman, who shot 81-84-165 and ended up in 17th place, said he enjoyed the challenge the course presented.
“Regardless of where you’re at, you have to execute your shots and make putts, and I didn’t do either one of those things,” Dylan Kaufman said. “I have to play better. I started out poorly on both days, and this course makes it tough to gain strokes back.”
Kaufman added that despite the scores not being what they wanted, the fact that they finally made it to state after coming so close the past two seasons was a goal they had since the end of last season.
“Getting here was a big goal,” Dylan Kaufman said. “Now we want to get back next year and play the way we are capable of playing.”
After shooting a day-one 85, freshman Brookston Hummel settled in and struck the ball very well on day two. However, his putter betrayed him, and he suffered through five three-putts on the huge, undulating and fast greens on his way to an 82.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball bad. I was hitting fairways, but the greens just chewed me up, and I didn’t putt well,” said Hummel, whose score left him in a tie for 18th place individually.
Asked if the big stage was nerve-racking for a freshman, Hummel said, “I was definitely nervous coming in, but once you get going, you settle in. I think the experience this year will definitely be a big benefit going into next season. Hopefully we will get a chance to get back here and improve.”
A second freshman, Carter Mishler, fired an 86-85-171, good for 27th place overall.
“We weren’t expecting this kind of weekend,” Mishler said. “We had nobody in the 70s either day, and we can all shoot those kinds of numbers, so that was disappointing.”
Mishler said between nerves, the toughness of NorthStar and inexperience the Hawks found themselves struggling. He said those types of things won’t stand in their way should they return next season.
“We will be better,” Mishler said. “This was so much fun because everyone here is good and we love the challenge of playing great competition. We just didn’t get it done this weekend.”
Finally the team’s third freshman, Kenny Weaver, shot 87-87-174 to finish the tournament tied for 33rd place. Considering Weaver hadn’t ever played the game before this year is a testament to how studious he was in picking up the game.
“I played OK, but I know I can play better,” Weaver said. “This course is pretty hard, and the greens are different than what we are used to playing.”
Out of all of Hiland’s players, Weaver could see the biggest jump in improvement since he is new to the game. He said he expects a lot out of himself, just as his teammates do of themselves, and they will push each other to improve during the offseason.
“It’s pretty awesome having a bunch of young players who want to make each other better,” Weaver said.
Not that it is any consolation to the Hawks, but Hiland was the only team at state to post every single score under 90 on the weekend. The Hawks posted all 10 of their rounds in the 80s.
Not that any of them care about that. The end result is all that matters to this crew, and they know they could have played better.
Not doing so will only push them to refocus their attention on what they hope will be a return trip next season.
“These kids are hard workers, and they know what needs to be done to get where we want to be, which is standing on the podium at the end of the year,” coach Kaufman said.