TUSCOLA — It looked like a promotional image meant to show just how beautiful Ironhorse Golf Club could look on any given day.
A foursome making its way to the 18th tee box under a cloudless sky. The sun setting behind trees that line a course boundary to the golfers’ left. Water rippling within the large pond that borders the par-4’s entire right side.
A picturesque scene, even if the accompanying golf scores couldn’t match the view.
“It was just nice,” said Schlarman senior Gabe Huddleston, one of four boys who rounded out Tuesday’s Class 1A Tuscola Sectional with the aforementioned backdrop around 5:30 p.m. “You do everything you can for four years for your school, and I can’t say I really know what it feels like (to be done with prep golf) because I haven’t had a lot of time to process it.”
“It’s kind of, this is it,” added Bement senior Zach Rogers, also a member of that quartet. “It’s kind of like, I guess, on to the next step really.”
It was a pleasant way to end what largely was a difficulty day for the sectional’s competitors.
A gusting wind, dry fairways and numerous course hazards kept scores high across the board in the season finale for local small-school boys’ golfers. The IHSA will not be holding a state tournament in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m disappointed,” said Rogers, who carded an 11-over 83 to tie for 12th place. “But at the same time, you know, in the early school year we didn’t even think that we’d have a sectional. So I’ll take it. I mean, (it’s) better than nothing.”
The IHSA Board of Directors in late September voted to expand the golf postseason beyond regional action by adding sectional showcases.
Rogers and his brother, fellow Bement senior Luke Rogers, weren’t totally sure they’d be involved in any playoff golf during their final high school season.
Luke Rogers not long ago contracted COVID-19, causing both boys to enter quarantine. They returned to school just a day before last week’s regional.
“It’s meant the world just to even get out here,” said Luke Rogers, who notched an 84 to tie for 15th. “We weren’t expecting to be able to play. ... But we got lucky. We got to come out and play regionals, got out, played sectionals and it’s a good way to end it.”
Zach Rogers faced an additional hurdle preparing for the sectional tournament, as the two-time Class 1A state qualifier’s driver broke three days before the event.
“I hadn’t hit this (replacement) driver until (Monday) night,” Zach Rogers said. “It’s weird but it goes a long way, so I guess that’s OK.”
Given the quarantine-broken driver combo, Zach Rogers must’ve felt cursed entering his final prep golf postseason.
But he placed first at his regional — Luke Rogers took second — and landed inside the top 15 of his sectional. Plus, Zach Rogers left Ironhorse with a certain chilly treat on his mind: Dippin’ Dots.
“Cotton candy,” he said when asked what flavor he’d be buying. “Not even a question.”
Huddleston had his own equipment malfunction Tuesday, though it wasn’t nearly as severe as losing a driver.
“I hit my approach (on the 18th hole), and I went to fix my pitch mark,” Huddleston said, “and last green, last hole, last tournament my divot tool broke. That was just kind of an ironic thing, but all you can do is look back and smile.”
Huddleston joined Luke Rogers in a share of 15th via an 84. His style of striking the ball made the swirling wind especially difficult to deal with.
“If there’s one thing I tend to struggle with, I’m not the best wind player and that’s just because I hit the ball so high,” Huddleston said. “Even when I try to knock the ball flight down, it’s still up in the air a little bit. It’s definitely something that I’m going to work toward (improving).”
The area’s best score from this sectional was produced by Sullivan junior Camden Dwyer, who tied for eighth with an 82.
It helped Sullivan to second place in the 10-team chase. Coach Ben Richter’s unit recorded a 339 that rated well behind champion El Paso-Gridley’s 320, though Sullivan’s fifth score allowed it to break a tie with Tri-Valley in the group standings.
“We’ve got to show up to these tournaments and get four scores put together,” said Richter, whose program qualified for state each of the last two seasons and would’ve done so again Tuesday under normal circumstances. “I know what we average throughout the year and what we can shoot, and just not putting it all together (Tuesday) is pretty disappointing.”
Seniors Leyton Ellis and Drew Rogers added scores of 85 and 86, respectively, for Sullivan. Rogers’ mark was matched by sophomore teammate Will Haegan, who achieved the day’s highlight on the par-3 15th.
“Will had a hole-in-one,” Richter said. “Definitely very, very happy for him on that because that’s once in a lifetime — playing in a sectional tournament, get one in from like 165 yards out. That’s awesome.”
Haegan thought his first career ace was going to come up well short of the hole when he initially swatted the ball.
“It means a lot,” Haegan said. “It makes me happy, because I got something good out of this day.”
Monticello slotted fifth as a team with a 356 total, led by senior Ben Potts’ 83. St. Thomas More settled for seventh place at 374 behind a low score of 87 from Wilson Kirby.
Iroquois West and Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin each accumulated 379 strokes, but the Raiders took eighth and the Blue Devils ninth based on fifth scores. IW seniors Kade Kimmel and Ryan Tilstra keyed their club with scores of 90 and 91, respectively, while BHRA’s Izaiah Lusk netted a team-best 87.