The early season objective for the Litchfield boys golf team was pretty basic.
“My goal for the beginning of the year was just to get the kids out playing,” said Joel Green, who is in his first year as varsity boys head coach after seven seasons as junior varsity girls coach. “We missed all of last year, so we just needed to get out there and play.”
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down high school athletics last spring, it meant that players lost a season of development, less than ideal, especially for youngsters.
“If you’re a junior (this season), the last time you played was as a freshman,” Green said. “You think about that, there are a lot of changes in that time. Your body grew, you changed. For a young man, that’s some significant time between freshman and junior year … emotionally and physically.”
Of course, it’s likely that everyone on the golf team played many rounds of golf last spring and summer. But it wasn’t the kind of competitive play they will face in a high school meet.
“I’ve been trying to tell them, ‘This isn’t your summer golf game with your buddies,’” Green said of early practices. “You have to think about it in a competitive format … without putting a lot of pressure on yourself.”
Based on what he’s seen so far, though, Green thinks the 2021 edition will see some success.
Four of the top six bags will be held by juniors, with Sam Tipka leading the way. As a freshman, Tipka finished 22nd in the Section 3AA meet after posting rounds of 83 and 84 at Oakdale Golf Club in Hutchinson. Tyler Jansky played in the Section 3AA meet as a freshman, as well, though he did not reach the second day after carding a 97 in the first round.
Braxton Kerstein rounds out the Dragons’ top three, and even though he doesn’t have as much varsity experience as Tipka and Jansky, he has started this season well. He finished second overall in the first Wright County Conference meet of the season with a nine-hole round of 40, just one stroke behind medalist, April 15 at Timber Creek Golf Course.
The rest of the Litchfield varsity lineup, in the early season at least, will be senior Mason Olson, freshman Nick Kuechle and junior Ben Blomberg.
“I think we have the ability to do well this year,” Green said. “I see some really great strokes. We hit the ball well. All six of those guys have the potential to be a scorer. It’s just a matter of getting back into the swing, getting back into competitive golf.”
With Wright County Conference power New London-Spicer around, Green said he doesn’t see the Dragons challenging for the conference title, but he does think they can be in the mix in the top half of the conference.
“New London-Spicer has a great team; they’re going to be strong this year,” he said. “So being realistic, it would be tough to believe we could be first in the conference. You have to understand where you’re starting, where you can go. And I think we can have success.”
Success will come with working on the details, he said. Details and small changes will equate to bigger gains in competition.
Green, the vocal music instructor at LHS, said working with golfers to develop the right swing is a lot like bringing out the best in a singer.
“There’s a real similarity (between) music and golf … you’re always analyzing,” Green said. “With music, you’re thinking sharps and flats, and what’s the song going to look like at the end. Golf’s the same way. If we do this, how’s it going to change the outcome? It’s that analytical process of the game that’s really enjoyable for me.”