Coming off of a season in which they just missed qualifying for the state tournament, it is easy to see why Austin Kaufman’s Hiland golf team is excited about the upcoming season.
While they lost a trio of talented seniors from last year’s team, returning are a pair of tremendous leaders in juniors Bruce Yoder and Dylan Kaufman, who are both good enough to challenge for Player of the Year honors in the Inter-Valley Conference.
But graduation left the cupboard a little bare; the next three players to step up to the tee box for the Hawks are all freshmen.
However, these are not typical freshmen, and Carter Mishler, Brookston Hummel and Kenny Weaver have made it apparent early on that they are more than ready to fill some key roles for a Hiland team that has some lofty expectations in Div. IV.
The early results are very positive for Hiland, which fired off what Kaufman believes is a school-record 297 in the Mazda of Wooster Invitational at Hawk’s Nest Golf Course in Wooster, then captured first place by two strokes over returning state-qualifier Strasburg in the Saints Invitational at Union Country Club on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
“Records weren’t kept for several years, but as long as I’ve been here, this is by far the best we’ve shot,” coach Kaufman said. “We had to play a lot of placement shots there, and we hit a ton of good iron shots and putted well. I liked our mentality there, and we just stayed out of trouble.”
At the Mazda of Wooster Invitational, Yoder fashioned an even-par 72 to grab medalist honors while Dylan Kaufman carded a runner-up 73 score that tied him with Wooster’s Mason Frazier. Mishler added a 74 while Hummel fired off a 78, the two freshmen proving they belong with the varsity crowd.
How good was Hiland on this day? Miller’s score of 82 would have been the top score on seven of the remaining 10 teams in the event and would have been second on the remaining three teams.
“This group has been really consistent this summer and has been consistently in the 306-310 range on some pretty challenging courses,” Kaufman said of his crew. “But the 297, that gives us a lot of confidence moving forward. We just can’t let it take us to a point where we are thinking about breaking 300 every time out. We just need to come out each day and play smart, consistent golf, and if we do that, I really think we are capable of making it pretty tough for anyone to beat us. We have that potential, but right now that is all it is, potential.”
Kaufman said his two juniors have set the tone for the younger kids by showcasing their work ethic as well as taking the youngsters under their wings. Kaufman said his team has shown an incredible amount of camaraderie, and they are always talking golf, whether it is on the course at the Hiland golf facility or wherever they are.
While Hummel and Mishler are almost seasoned veterans, having played the game for a long time, Miller has been a revelation. He had not played until he picked up a club this summer, and he quickly caught on and has already become a big part of the team’s success.
When Dylan Kaufman struggled at Union Country Club, it was Miller who stepped in with the best fifth-man score of the day at 84, which allowed Hiland to eke out a two-shot victory over Strasburg.
“If we don’t get that effort from Kenny, we don’t win a title here,” coach Kaufman said following their win in the Saints Invitational. “This group is really cerebral on the course. They push each other and make each other work hard, and they understand the game. It is going to be a fun season.”