Strasburg senior All-Ohioan Mitch Neidenthal teed it up on day two of the Div. II state golf tournament at NorthStar Golf Course in Sunbury with one goal in mind.
The Tiger’s first-ever All-Ohioan earned that title last season with a stellar Second Team All-Ohio effort, and he was bent on doing it again this year.
A sizzling 76 on day one had put him in prime position to do that, but on a brisk Saturday morning, he promptly whacked his tee shot into the high grass beside the rough. He tried to hack his way out but left his second shot inches from where he hit his shot. He then took a penalty drop out of the high grass and batted his way to a triple bogey.
That kind of rough start would rattle most guys, but Neidenthal isn’t most guys. His steady demeanor and workman-like attitude along with a bulldog mentality allowed him to remain focused on the task at hand because he knew he had 17 more holes to play.
All he did was go out and play the next 16 holes at one-over par, and despite a bogey on the ridiculously tough 18th hole, his 77 was good enough to afford him a spot among the top-10 golfers at eighth place as a two-time All-Ohioan at the end of the day.
“I probably should have just taken the drop a stroke earlier rather than trying to hammer my way out of the high stuff,” Neidenthal said. “But when that hole was over, I told myself that it was just one hole and I had work to do. You can’t let that determine your day. Even after I knocked one into the water a little later, I still knew I was going to be OK.”
How Neidenthal did it was the oldest trick in the book for golfers who want to score well: He started raining putts, a lot of putts, a lot of long putts.
Neidenthal got his putter going and never looked back. He used the flat stick to save pars. He used it to roll in some huge birdie putts that helped him manage to overcome the triple bogey.
“I’m not going to lie. That is the best I have ever putted in my life, and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” Neidenthal said. “I had a lot of confidence in my putter all weekend long, and when you believe you’re going to make putts, you make a lot of them.”
Strasburg head coach Troy McClellan said players like Neidenthal don’t come around too often. He said his senior’s ability to stay within himself and play his own game in the midst of turmoil and untold pressure defines his stature as Strasburg’s most decorated golfer in school history.
“He had to really grind it out, and these three final holes here are three of the toughest I’ve ever seen,” McClellan said. “But he is the kind of kid who is going to keep plugging away, and he came back after that triple and played the back nine at even par. He just stuck with what he wanted to do and never lost sight of it.”
Neidenthal’s tenacity and willingness to trust himself was evident on the 36th and final hole, where he and McClellan discussed what to hit off the tee on the treacherous and long 18th hole.
Well, it wasn’t as much of a discussion as it was Neidenthal informing his coach that he was going to rip the driver, knowing full well that an errant tee shot might cost him a spot on the All-Ohio squad.
“Mitch knows what he wants to hit, and he is confident, and I told him if that was the choice, do it,” McClellan said. “He’s just a bulldog out there, and he made his own decisions throughout.”
As for the senior’s mentality, McClellan said you don’t get the chance to coach kids like that very often.
“He’s pretty special, and he will be missed,” McClellan said.
Neidenthal said he couldn’t imagine ending his career anywhere else other than at state, although after two years of playing there with his team, he would have preferred that to playing by himself. Having played at state the past two years, he understood the pressure of playing on the big stage, and it was not too big for him.
“Both days I teed it up on the first hole and felt really calm and comfortable,” Neidenthal said, despite the triple bogey. “I think that having the experience of playing at state the last two years was a big benefit for me. It’s hard the first time you’re here because it is big and overwhelming.”
On the 36th hole Neidenthal nearly completed his day of incredible putting, rolling his 15-foot par putt to the lip of the hole, where it sat, peering down in the hole but not dropping in. He tapped in for bogey and walked off and into the arms of his head coach, who gave him a big hug.
It was a fitting way for Strasburg’s all-time great to cap off his great career.