It might only be practice rounds for the Columbus North High School golfers, but it’s still serious business.
Each day, a handful of Bull Dogs try to prove to coach Doug Bieker that they have what it takes to be in the varsity lineup for one of the state’s most powerful teams.
Earning a No. 4 or No. 5 spot at North carries quite a burden. While coaches in baseball, basketball and football have ways to hide a player who might be considered a weaker link, that is not the case in high school golf.
The score shot by the No. 4 golfer counts exactly the same as that carded by the No. 1 player. And Bieker can’t substitute for one of his players who is struggling in the middle of the round.
If that No. 4 golfer plays great in the sectional, regional and state tournaments, well, it could be happiness all around.
“There is more pressure to keep up,” said North senior Zach Lee, who has been making a push to land a No. 4 or No. 5 spot (the top four scores among five players count toward a team’s total). “If you make the lineup, you have to push yourself more each day.”
Lee has shot 83 and 80 in two tournament appearances in the varsity lineup, and that probably won’t be enough when big tournaments roll around at the end of the season. The Bull Dogs, who have been ranked No. 2 behind last season’s state champ, Westfield, since the beginning of this season, finished second in both those tournaments, the Hall of Fame Classic in Peru and the Spring Preview in Franklin.
“We all need to start playing a little better, well, except for (North No. 1) Michael VanDeventer,” Lee said. “But we also support each other. It comes back to the fact that we all are a team.”
Bieker has a host of solid players, and he is confident they will rise to the challenge. Lee, senior Ian Coffey and junior Kyung Kim are fighting for those No. 4 and No. 5 slots. Seniors VanDeventer, Christian Fairbanks and Nick Waskom have placed themselves in the top three positions.
Physically, Lee knows he has what it takes to shoot lower rounds.
“It’s the little stuff, the details,” Lee said about dropping his score. “It’s like when I three-putt the first green and then don’t three-putt the rest of the round and shoot 80. Maybe I wasn’t focused that first hole. A lot of this is mental and about staying focused.
“You have to keep a level mind and not let little things get to you. It’s challenging, but I’m ready for it.”
Lee said he should be able to drop strokes on the putting green and he has been practicing hard at that aspect of his game.
Coffey and Kim also know they need to drop strokes.
“But we’re all hoping we all play well,” Coffey said. “We don’t feel any pressure from our other guys. Everyone wants to be No. 1. We all are pushing each other to get better.
“I just need to go out and not be as nervous. If I have a bad first hole, I am mentally not myself. I need to start out strong.”
Decisions are such an important part of the game.
“Maybe it means that I don’t hit a driver off the first tee,” said Coffey, who shot an 86 in the Spring Preview at the Legends in Franklin. “That probably wasn’t a good club to hit at Legends. Double bogey to start.”
Kim said he just needs to avoid those crash-and-burn holes.
“If you are going to play varsity for this team, you need to step up in big moments,” he said. “I just need to avoid the big numbers.”
Kim takes his pursuit of a varsity spot very seriously.
“When you play on this varsity team, it is fun and awesome,” he said. “I looked up to some of these guys before coming to North. It’s really an honor to play with them.”
Bieker said very little separates his No. 1 from his No. 5 golfer.
“Whether you are No. 1 or No. 5 doesn’t matter on this team,” Bieker said. “All of them have the opportunity to be the best on that day. When they tee it up, I believe they all go out there feeling that they will be the best.”
Although landing a varsity spot carries responsibility and pressure along with it, Bieker said he doesn’t have anyone on his squad who would shy away from that challenge.
“Our kids want to represent Columbus North and the tradition that we have built here,” Bieker said. “I feel that we put our players in position to excel. We prepare them for this.”
All the preparation means they will need to play their best golf at the end of the season.
“It gets difficult at the end of the year,” Bieker said. “But I believe we have seven or eight golfers who could play at the sectional and do well.”
Only five will make the trip, though.
It becomes a tough decision for Bieker, who must make the final call when players are virtually deadlocked in scoring average. He knows it is a decision that can be painful for some.
“Our players care an awful lot,” Bieker said.