Hiland senior Mark Schlabach stared at the leader board at the OHSAA Div. III state golf tournament.
His total score of 151, which included a 74 and a 77, stood at the top of the heap for all golfers in the tournament.
As the remainder of the golfers scores were recorded, there stood but one name left, Danville’s Brayden Baldridge, who had placed third last year. Baldridge was the final score recorded on the day, and he needed a 73 to beat Schlabach.
The official scorer wrote down a “7” in the tens spot. He then took his pen and made a “1” next to it.
Schlabach’s heart leapt… a 71? Could it be that Schlabach would be beaten by the final player for medalist honors?
Then the scorer’s pen moved to the left a tad, and finished writing the “4” which meant the Hiland senior’s dream of winning the state individual championship had come true.
The hardest working guy in golf got his just dessert Saturday, Oct. 16 at The Ohio State University Scarlett Course during the OHSAA Div. III state golf tournament.
“I have never seen anyone work harder on their game than Mark does,” said his coach, Austin Kaufman.
“He is just a relentless workaholic who goes out every day and makes himself better. His success is because of that work ethic, and his ability to stay steady. This is something he has worked hard for, and he deserves it.”
“This feels pretty unbelievable,” said Schlabach after all of the drama was finally over. “I was so nervous. I thought for sure they were going to write a one down.”
Schlabach said he has been hitting the ball consistently all season long, and the goal of winning an individual title was on his radar all season. He got a taste of state two years ago as a sophomore when he went down and played decently.
Thus, he felt he could be fighting for a title this year.
What resulted was an effort that produced the school’s first golf champion.
“I think this will help the program, and maybe motivate kids to want to do the same thing,” said Schlabach.
“It feels good to finally be rewarded for all of the hard work I have put in over the years. I have put a lot of work in and I thought I had the game to win it.”
From the first hole of day two, Schlabach admitted that the pressure he was under was extreme, even compared to day one. Carving up the Scarlett to the tune of an opening round 74 left Schlabach tied for first place as medalist for the day, and it also heaped an unbelievable amount of pressure on top of an already pressure-packed weekend.
This was, after all, what Schlabach had been preparing for his whole golf career. Now it was here, and the magnitude of the day was something he was going to have to deal with.
That pressure sunk in quickly as Schlabach double-bogeyed his first hole, the 10th, then rushed into a bogey on the 11th. Two holes, three over par, and the weight was getting heavier.
But as his coach Austin Kaufman has said repeatedly, Schlabach has worked so hard, and gone to so many pressure-packed events over his career, that his edge, his calmness and steady demeanor, would instinctively take over.
Schlabach birdied the par-5 12th hole, but bogeys on 17 and 18 left him with a first nine 40, and when he took his third straight bogey on the number one, the title was in danger of slipping away.
Not gonna happen, thought Schlabach quietly to himself. Not on this day, knowing he had worked too hard for this moment.
Now at five over par through 10 holes, Schlabach went to work, exhibiting that quiet, analytical golf swing that has made him the golfer he is.
Schalabch put together a pair of birdies that helped him play the final eight holes at even par. He knew he would have to wait until everyone was in to see if that closing round 77 would be good enough to capture the dream that he’d run through his mind over and over so many times.
On this cold day, in which the Scarlett greens proved to be rock hard and unforgiving, with greens proving to be treacherous to putters, it would be enough.
Schlabach said while he striped the ball tee to green as good as he could have hoped, his six three-putts over the two days makes him feel like he could have played that much better.
However, in dealing with the intense pressure that comes with being the leader after day one, he will take the scores as they are, especially since they were just good enough.
“It adds a lot of pressure,” said Schlabach. “Those first couple of holes today I was really nervous. I got a little more comfortable after that. I drove the ball well and my short game from 40 yards and in was really good.”
As for his team’s seventh-place finish, it wasn’t what they had hoped for, after posting the second best district score in the state in Div. III.
He said playing the Scarlett Course is a whole different story than anywhere they have played prior, yet he felt that just finally breaking through and getting to state was a huge accomplishment for the Hawks.
“We all worked hard to get here,” said Schlabach of the Hawks. “This was a lot of fun.”
Schlabach will now look forward to playing gold at the collegiate level, although he has yet to declare his intentions.
Perhaps winning the state title will open the eyes of any number of colleges looking to bolster their squad with a young man who can play with ice in his veins under the toughest of conditions and most intense situations.