By Kyle Daubs
A humbling experience.
That is what it has felt like multiple times this year.
The Mattoon Green Wave boys golf team was pegged as the Apollo Conference favorite, only to fail to clinch the title. The team thought they would smash their school record team score only to play “horrible” on their home greens. The way Madden Johnson remembers it, everything changed after playing at the Craig Dixon Invitational.
For Mattoon, the team used these moments of adversity to clinch a Regional Championship and punch their ticket to the state tournament. With that said, it didn’t always feel this way.
Johnson remembers the exact moment when everything seemed to change for the better for the team.
“Everything changed at the Mattoon Invite,” said Johnson. “We were coming off our best score (302) of the year at Danville. And we all thought coming to our home tournament on our home course that we were just going to dominate everyone and break our school record. Then during our invite, we played horribly. A couple of us had a good round but on opposite days. So I think that humbled us that we can’t just go out and think we’re going to win every tournament without trying. And that we need to battle on every hole to post a good score.”
Everyone knew this team was good on paper. It featured two golfers that have won the Apollo Conference medalist, as well as three golfers that have had the state golf experience. At some point, it went back to remembering that they just needed to go back to their roots and remember they are in fact that good on paper.
“When we were struggling to score well we still thought that we were playing well,” said Johnson. “We thought we were managing the course well and hitting the ball solidly. We just were catching some unlucky breaks. Which is what happens in golf. but we knew that we just needed to keep putting the work in at practice and the results would show in the round.
Mattoon placed second at the sectional with a team score of 315. The top three teams went to state as Chatham Glenwood claimed the third spot with a team score of 316, while Belleville Althoff Christian was in the mix with a score of 318 and Olney at fifth with a score of 324.
“It’s crazy. I mean I knew we were a favorable team to make it out but also I knew that we all had to do good that day,” said Stewart Druin.”Throughout the day, I heard our guys were playing good and I looked at the leaderboard and I knew it was going to be close. Just the way it ended, going birdie, birdie and that last put on 18 to secure the team going, is just impossible to put into words and just incredible how it all happened.”
The Green Wave had contributions all over the place. Druin had played well before carding a triple-bogey on the 359-yard 16th hole. But then he caught fire. The senior birdied the 525-yard par-5 No. 17 and then drained a 45-foot birdie putt on the 375-yard par-4 No. 18, the second hardest-rated hole on the Acorns Golf Links course in Waterloo. He finished with four total birdies for a 78 that tied several others for 11th overall. Johnson, meanwhile, posted birdies on three of the final five holes – the 399-yard par-4 No. 14, the 359-yard par-4 No. 16 and at No. 18, where he lifted his approach shot on No. 18 from about 140 yards out to within eight inches of the hole. He posted an 80 overall.
“When Madden struck one close on 18 for a tap-in birdie, I’m sure he was thinking the same thing I was,” said Druin. “You know you have to make birdie to give our team the best chance to go.”
Senior Blaine Powers posted a steady round that included 13 pars and a birdie to also tie for 11th at 78. He went 1-under 35 on the 3,032-yard front nine before hitting a ball out of bounds on No.10 that resulted in a quadruple bogey.
Powers had been struggling at the beginning of the year, but he found a way to shine when the lights got the brightest. After getting beat by some of his teammates to finish with the fifth or sixth best score on the team, he finished the season All-Apollo and in the top-4 for the scorecard in the postseason. That included tying Druin with the best individual score at the sectional.
“It’s great to go as a team,” said Powers. “The whole experience is a lot more fun with the guys. I’m looking forward to it. We worked really hard these last couple of weeks leading up to sectionals. Honestly not many adjustments were made. We just improved all aspects of our game and it paid off.”
Among others stepping up, Will Pullen stepped up by shooting an individual score of 79 to tie for 18th overall.
“Will has been huge this season,” said Johnson. “He has thrown out a bunch of 78 to 82 which is what we need. We needed a guy to help us out on our three and four scores and he’s done that. We know that when we aren’t playing our best we can count on Will to come in clutch.”
Now, Mattoon is set to compete at the state tournament. Druin said that the team will stick to the same mindset that has worked this postseason to score as high as the team can go.
“It definitely shows that we wanted to go to state,” said Druin. “We definitely had that in mind going into sectionals. Being able to recover from bad shots, we know that’s how it gets done. It comes down to how well can you recover and even if you shave one stroke, that adds up. It helps the team just that much.”