Prep golf: Braves’ Jensen, Eskymos overcome the elements

ESCANABA – Most area prep sporting events were rained out Thursday.

The elements, however, didn’t stop golfers from five Central Upper Peninsula high schools from competing at the Escanaba Country Club.

Many of Escanaba’s athletes were on a marching band trip to New York City, but that didn’t prevent them from sweeping this season-opener.

Despite having only four on hand for this meet, the Esky girls won in convincing fashion with 212 strokes. Runner-up Gladstone had 225, followed by Iron Mountain 236, Marquette 260 and Kingsford 261.

“Before the meet, I told the girls ‘this is our team for today,'” said Esky coach Brian Robinette. “There’s the feeling that there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.’ The girls knew they had to focus. I felt that if we stayed focused, we’d be fine. I think knowing all their scores were going to count motivated them.”

In the boys’ standings, the Esky black team carded a 333, followed by Gladstone 344, Kingsford 350, Marquette 352, Esky Orange 357 and Iron Mountain 373.

“We had some glimpses of kids putting holes together,” said Robinette. “Nick Aird hit a 35 (on the back nine). He just put some good holes together and I’ll give Nick Aird a ton of credit. Nick opened with an eight on the first hole (a par-four) and was able to overcome that. He showed a lot of intestinal fortitude by coming back and hitting a 39 on the second nine. Golf is such a mental game. I’m not worried about the bad holes. I’m more concerned about how the kids respond after a bad hole.”

The girls played nine holes. Gladstone senior Callie Jensen earned medalist honors with 45, a stroke better than Esky senior Abbey Strom.

“I’m still getting back into the flow of things,” said Jensen. “The greens were slow with all the rain we’re getting today. They were also kind of bumpy due to being so early in the season. There wasn’t much roll to the ball. It was cold, but at least there wasn’t much wind. It felt good to be back on the course. Escanaba has a real strong team. They’re pretty deep this year.”

Gladstone coach Dane Quigley was impressed with Jensen’s performance on a day better suited for ducks.

“Callie has been one of the top golfers in the area over the past three years and today she put up a 45,” he said. “For not having much practice time, that’s a nice score.

“We’re looking at this as a starting point. We hadn’t been able to get outside and this is also our first time on a course this year. It’s always tough for the new kids the first time. No doubt, there’s jitters.”

Strom was able to overcome a case of opening-day jitters to gain runner-up honors. Teammate Amanda Bink shot 47 for third place.

“The first hole was a little rough, then it was much easier after that,” said Strom. “The rain really didn’t bother me. I didn’t pay much attention to it. I’m pleased with my score. My drives were strong today. The greens were full of water, but I was prepared for that.”

Robinette was pleased to see two Esky golfers shoot below 50.

“It has been a long time since we’ve seen that on our teams,” he said. “Abbey was a very good fourth golfer last year. She really stepped up today and Amanda came back with the most improved game. After watching her strike the ball, I can see she put some time into her game.”

Esky sophomore Dylan Gauthier and Marquette junior Scott Frazier shared boys’ medalist honors with 78 through 18 holes. Aird and Kingsford’s Joe Linn tied for third at 80.

“Overall, everything went okay,” said Gauthier. “I had some good holes and some that weren’t so good. I need to work on my putting. The weather was kind of bad sometimes. But I had an umbrella, which kept me pretty dry. It’s important to have all your gear dry.”

This marked the first time Marquette hit a ball off grass this year.

“We still have snow on our course (Marquette Golf Club’s Heritage Course),” said Frazier. “I wasn’t used to the green speed. I was coming up short on everything. During the first nine holes, the wetness wasn’t a factor. Then, my gloves started to get wet. The towels weren’t working and my hands were cold, which made it hard to grip the clubs.”

Gladstone’s leader was Max Strasser at 84, a stroke ahead of teammate Adam Scheeneman.

“Four of our top five were in the 80s, which I think are solid scores for these conditions,” said Quigley. “We’re a very young group. The kids are going to improve as they get more comfortable on the course. We have some good, competitive golfers. It makes everybody better when you have friendly competition within your ranks.”