By Kyle Daubs

Madden Johnson put the feeling of not qualifying as a team in the best words that he could. 

“It sucks that we didn’t qualify as a team,” said Johnson. 

The Green Wave placed fourth as a team at the Class 2A Effingham Sectional, just four strokes from the last qualifying spot. Belleville Althoff placed third with 315 strokes, narrowly beating out Mattoon’s 319. 

“I thought that I left multiple shots on the course,” said Johnson. 

Johnson’s most important shot at the end of the day secured a playoff win as the freshman grabbed the final individual spot, while teammate Blaine Powers, a junior, also qualified for state. However, Powers said that not making the tournament by that slim of a margin stung. 

“It does for sure,” said Powers. “I was bummed my team didn’t make it out, especially since we were four strokes away from advancing. I am still able to enjoy going to state as an individual. It’s a great accomplishment and I am excited to play another week.”

The most unexpected part of the night might have been that Stewart Druin, last year’s Apollo Conference medalist and this year’s runner-up, did not qualify for state. 

“This is a tough one for Stewart,” said MHS golf coach Bill Behrends. “By his standards, he had a disappointing season. Hopefully, this will light a fire in him.  I expect great things from him next season.”

Behrends said that the overall feeling was certainly disappointed that the team just missed the state berth as a full team, but he is excited about what the future holds. 

“We are disappointed to narrowly miss qualifying as a team, but we are focused on the fact that we bring everyone back next year,” said Behrends. “319 is one of our best team scores of the season, and it was impressive considering the course, competition and pressure of the moment.”

Speaking of competition, Johnson needed every bit of that to even get to state as a freshman. Johnson was 6-over-par after his first nine holes. Then, he fell out of the groove because he had a 30-minute delay because some people had not teed off. 

Luckily, all that time of watching his older brothers play golf at MHS finally paid off when it came to settle his nerves. 

“I told myself to calm down and just play my game,” said Johnson. “I knew what scores usually make it by watching Meade and Davis at sectionals, so I told myself you can only go one over par on the back nine to give myself a chance  to make it.”

Johnson then secured six pars, two bogeys, and one birdie to total up a 37 on the back nine, which gave him a chance to be in the mix of those advancing. Once all the scores were turned in, Johnson was in a tie for the 10th and final qualifying spot, which set up a playoff hole to determine who would go to state.  

“Once I got into the playoff, neither one of us hit good tee shots or hit the green in regulation,” said Johnson. “We both had chips from off the green and he went first and left a long putt. Coach Behrends told me to put the pressure on and hit a good chip and, sure enough, I put my chip to three feet and he missed his putt and I made mine to put me into the state.”

Behrends was impressed with the composure of his freshman, who had won the Apollo Conference medalist this year, in the biggest moment of his season. 

“Madden has been impressive all year,” said Behrends. “He got off to a rough start, but he changed his demeanor and started finding his groove.  To beat a player of Luke Bradley’s caliber in a sudden-death playoff to earn a state finals berth is impressive, especially for a freshman.  He hit an amazing pitch shot from a tough position to close it out.  The kid thrives under pressure, and I am excited to see what he can do during the state tournament.  Expect great things from him next season as well.”

As for Powers, the junior started his day 4-over-par on his first four holes. Then, he parred his next five holes. Powers said he was able to remain “steady” over the next nine holes to put together a good score. Powers finished with a 78, just one stroke behind Charleston’s Preston Phillips, which was good enough for the fifth-best individual score. 

“I had a rough start to the day,” said Powers. “Overall I’m very happy with my performance considering the rough start. It’s a great accomplishment just to make it to state,” said Powers. “My goal is to make it to the second day and see where we stand from there.”

Behrends said this was a great accomplishment for Powers, especially given the midseason slump that cost him a shot at All-Apollo. 

“I am excited for Blaine,” said Behrends. “He had a great start to the season, then hit a slump midway through.  He was down on himself and his game for the past few weeks, so I am really happy to see him rise from the ashes and continue to battle.  He played a great round yesterday and should carry this momentum to a good showing at the state tournament.”