Aug. 11—OTTUMWA — Lucas Johnson can recall how the Marshalltown boys golf team’s trip to the Ottumwa Golf and Country Club just 11 years earlier.
“We came down here and shot 400,” Johnson recalled. “I knew we only had one direction to go.”
Marshalltown returned to the Fox Run Golf Course on Thursday, joining Mason City and the hosting Ottumwa Bulldogs in the season-opening Iowa Alliance conference triangular for all three teams. The Bobcats showed which direction they’ve headed in since that tough day in Ottumwa in 2012, posting a season-opening round of 319 on Thursday beating the Bulldogs by 35 strokes and Mason City by 41.
“Marshalltown is the team to beat in the Alliance this year,” Ottumwa head boys golf coach Kyle Creamer said. “It was good to see them right away and have our kids play with them. Hopefully, we learned a thing or two along the way. We’ll see them four or five times throughout the year.”
Ottumwa opened the season a shot better than their season average from last year and two strokes better than their season-ending score of 356 produced at A.H. Blank Golf Course in the Class 4A district tournament. The Bulldogs were ultimately able to lower their 18-hole score by nearly 50 strokes from what was their season-worst score of 381 shot at last year’s Muscatine Invitational to their best 18-hole score shot at Bright Grandview Golf Course during the first half of the Iowa Alliance Conference meet four days later.
By the end of last season, Ottumwa had made a 25-stroke improvement from their first 18-hole tournament to their final one. Starting at 354 on Thursday puts the Bulldogs in line to aim at finishing the season shooting for scores in the 310s and 320s, similar to where Marshalltown finished last season leaving the Bobcats just seven strokes shy of qualifying for state as a team last fall.
“We progressively got better throughout last year right up until districts. That’s what we want to try to do again this year,” Creamer said. “We have a place to start now. All the guys already have been telling me what they need to work on. They already have it in their heads what they need to do.”
Stephen Brinegar was one of those players that knew exactly what he needed to work on. The Ottumwa sophomore matched junior teammate Chase Thompson with a team-low round of 86 on Thursday, but could pinpoint the whole where things went awry.
“I had a few really good holes until I got to the 12th. I got there, had a good drive, then had a bad second shot, a bad third shot, everything else was bad,” Brinegar said. “It carried my score down. I was able to finish the round pretty well. It’s encouraging, but also a little frustrating. I know I can do better.”
Thompson, meanwhile, targeted his short game as something to work on after Thursday’s season-opening round. Ottumwa’s top scorer last year was right on par with his 18-hole season average from a season ago, but looked back on shots on and near the green that didn’t go his way as areas for improvement moving forward.
“I just didn’t putt well. Around the green, it was not my best day,” Thompson said. “That’s what you need in golf. It doesn’t matter how far you hit the ball. When you get around the green, those are the big shots.”
Thompson has not only been spending time working on his game at home, but has been seeing how big the big shots are by playing in Junior PGA tournaments during the summer. This past weekend, Thompson was part of the Greater Ottumwa City Golf Championships at Cedar Creek making it into the championship flight of the men’s division with rounds of 76 and 78, finishing in a tie for sixth.
“It teaches you not to always go for the hero shots. That’s what can lead to the bigger numbers,” Thompson said. “You learn how to take smarter shots. When you have take a shot out of the trees, sometimes you have to go out lateral through to the fairway and try to make par the hard way.”
Ryan Schmit, a 4A state golf individual qualifier last year, earned medalist honors on Thursday as the Marshalltown senior posted a score of 73, finishing six strokes ahead of Bobcat teammate Jacob Thiessen. Logan Storto and Dominick Rath each posted scores of 91 for Ottumwa’s varsity squad while Milo Canny and Carter Burton each posted scores of 105 for the Bulldogs.
Ottumwa junior varsity squad was paced by Ashton Grace, who finished Thursday with a round of 109 edging Ethan Reynolds by a stroke for the team’s low round. Gavin Monaghan added a score of 115 while Miles Hedgecock posted a round of 122 for the Bulldog junior varsity.
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.