Three-peat by a thread

WILLMAR – Heading into the back nine facing a slim deficit at the Section 3AA Golf Championships, the members of the Marshall boys’ golf team knew that if they wanted to keep their state tournament streak alive, they had to fight for it.

Locked in a tight battle with New London-Spicer at Eagle Creek Golf Club in Willmar on Thursday, with one spot at state up for grabs, the Tigers were unaware of what their fate would be until the final group came in. Thanks to strong back nines by its top two golfers, Marshall fended off the Wildcats by just three strokes, firing a team score of 315 to three-peat as section champions.

Juniors Matt Bennett and Brent Haukom each shot 37 on the back nine in windy conditions. They finished with the top two scores of the day, as Bennett earned medalist honors with a 4-over round of 76 and Haukom bounced back from a 41 on the front nine to tally a 78.

As the Tigers made the turn, their sense of urgency rose. But under the pressure, they managed to stay collected on the course and achieve their objective.

“I saw the nine-hole scores and we were down by a couple, so I knew we were going to have to fight back,” Haukom said. “It feels great. This is what we worked for all summer long. This is our goal every single year so we’re going to try to go up there and play well and see what we can do.”

Marshall will compete at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan June 11-12. The Tigers finished fifth at state last year and were the runners-up two years ago.

Every meet they enter, the Tigers’ goal is to have at least four scores in the 70s. Bennett and Haukom were the only team members to accomplish that feat, but the others weren’t far off. Jacob Baker carded an 80 to tie for sixth place, and Jon Wyffels shot an 81 to take ninth. Alex Buysse and Matt Christianson shot 82 and 83, respectively.

As gusty winds dried out the greens while the day wore on, just about all the golfers seemed to struggle with their putting, especially on the more open front nine. Marshall boys’ head coach Allen Lucht said his golfers frequently putted the ball well past the hole, which led to quite a few three-putts.

“The greens were nice but nobody seemed to be making any putts,” Bennett said. “The wind was pretty bad. It was tough today, so I’m happy with the score we shot.”

Along with the wind and the tough greens, Lucht said another factor likely played a part in some of the higher scores on the day.

“Trying to go to state is very rewarding a sense, but it not only puts pressure on our kids but on everybody else, and you could tell by the scores we saw today,” Lucht said. “When they get under these conditions, they get themselves a little riled up and that’s what happens.”

The atmosphere was certainly tense over the final few holes with two teams battling down to the wire. Bennett said he did what he could to not let the pressure get to him.

“The last couple of holes I was a little nervous and the kid I was playing with started playing really well,” he said. “I knew it was going to be close all day so I just tried to stay focused as much as I could.”

The Tigers ended up withstanding the pressure and earning the team title, but New London-Spicer got a nice consolation prize. The Wildcats earned four of the five individual state-qualifying spots. Corbin Schwartz and Ethan Bohlson each shot 79 to lead the way for the squad.

Yellow Medicine East’s Mitch McCosh, who qualified as an individual out of his sub-section, narrowly missed out on a trip to state. His 81 was just one stroke off the mark.

Marshall and New London-Spicer were well clear of the other two teams in the field. Redwood Valley placed third with a 343 and Benson shot a 357.

Boys’ Team Scores: 1. Marshall 315, 2. New London-Spicer 318, 3. Redwood Valley 343, 4. Benson 357.

Individual State Qualifiers: Corbin Schwartz (NLS) 79, Ethan Bohlson (NLS) 79, Derek Bruns (Montevideo) 79, Jordan Baker (NLS) 80, Joey Dreier (NLS) 80.

Individual Scores

Benson: Zach Mauer 81, Brody Gimberlin 87, Dan Lee 94, Max Peterson 95.

Marshall: Matt Bennett 76, Brent Haukom 78, Jacob Baker 80, Jon Wyffels 81, Alex Buysse 72, Matt Christianson 83.

New London-Spicer: Corbin Schwartz 79, Ethan Bohlson 79, Joey Dreier 80, Jordan Baker 80.

Redwood Valley: Alec Koster 84, Mitch Fischer 85, Derek Bebeau 85, Adam Hengel 89.

Individual Competitors: Derek Bruns (Montevideo) 79, Mitch McCosh (Yellow Medicine East) 81, Joe Brinkman (Jackson County Central) 83, Brett Buckingham (Minnewaska) 84, Mathew Sterrett (Luverne) 84, Seth Meier (Worthington) 85, Jordan Kolden (Morris) 85, Kyle Christopher (JCC) 86, Mark Spreiter (LUV) 87, Kyle Edlin (JCC) 88, Peter Frischmon (MIN) 88, Alex Kremer (WOR) 89, Andrew Rentz (MOR) 89, Esten Stensrud (MIN) 91, Matt Bornhorst (Lac qui Parle Valley) 93, Tanner Diemer (WIN) 93, Bobby Roos (Paynesville) 96, Jake Woll (WOR) 101.