Coming into this golf season in Ohio Cardinal Conference play, two players stood out as the ones to watch.
Ashland’s Beau Bayerl, who earned OCC medalist honors last season and is headed to play at the University of Akron next fall, and Anthony Panapento of Wooster were widely recognized as the odds-on favorites to battle for that top spot in OCC play this year.
Now a third person has crashed the party, making it known that he is more than ready to vie for bragging rights in the OCC.
West Holmes senior Blaine Hager topped Panapento in a head-to-head contest earlier this year at Wooster Country Club, and on Tuesday, Sept.
7 at Fire Ridge Golf Course, Hager did it again, this time going under par with a 35 on the back side to top Bayerl’s 39.
While maybe not as big of a name throughout high school golf, Hager has been extremely consistent this season and has definitely taken steps in propelling himself into the names to consider as the cream of the crop in league play.
Hager said following his round of 35, which included three birdies and a finish on 18 with a birdie putt that stopped scant inches from the hole, that playing the big boys of the OCC gets him focused.
“Playing someone like Beau makes you want to play better along with him,” said Hager, who said he has the utmost respect for his two competitors. He has actually known Bayerl and the two have become good friends over the past several years. “Those guys are so good, that it gives me added motivation to want to stay with them and play right with them. Beau is a great guy, and a tremendous player. We have been very close, and he is always respectful. He is the one guy I enjoy playing with more than anyone else in league.”
That doesn’t mean Hager doesn’t want to beat him, however. On this night, one poor hole on No. 13 did Bayerl in, not that a 39 is far from an awful score by any standards. However, the rest of the Arrows played extremely well, and Ashland fired off a 155 to defeat the Knights, who shot 174. The Knights also fell to Wooster 160-164, and Hager said he would gladly trade in the low scores for a team win.
The 35 marks the first time that Hager has gone under par in his career, but he noted that the one thing about his round is the way he gave back shots after gaining them. After parring 10, he birdied 11, then bogeyed 12. He then birdied 13, and quickly bogeyed the tough par-3 14th. But after knocking his approach shot to within inches of an eagle on 15, he had smooth sailing, keeping his score under par.
“I putted well on 10, and that gave me confidence and got me going,” said Hager. “Then I hit a big birdie putt on 11 and I knew there was something working tonight. I am thrilled that I scored well, but I would much rather have the team win and stay in the hunt for the OCC title.”
That may be out of reach now that the Knights have fallen to both the Arrows and Generals, but for Hager, crashing the party at the top of the individual league standings might have to do.