Kennedy braves back nine to finish strong at state

Jack Nicklaus is known as the Golden Bear and his designed Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course is quite tough for all those who chose to challenge it – especially on the back nine.

With that said, the John F. Kennedy boys golf team wasn’t fazed during Saturday’s round at the Division III state golf tournament.

The Eagles cut 22 strokes of its front-nine play and eventually ended eighth with a 350-337-687.

“The back side of Jack is where he gets you,” JFK coach Jim St. George said. “For us to shoot our better round on the back. We lit it up on the toughest side at the toughest time. It was nice to see the way we finish. We caught it in there.”

Four of the five JFK players cut at least three strokes off their front nine scores – the biggest being Daniel LaPolla’s eight-stroke improvement from 48 to 40.

“He finally got it clicking on the back side and shot a 40. I think the nerves finally settled down. That was good to see,” St. George said.

Toledo Ottawa Hills won the state title with 647, while Gahanna Columbus Academy was second (659).

Powell Village Academy’s Jeg Coughlin was the medalist with a 73-71-144, while Ottawa Hills’ Ben Silverman was second with 75-72-147.

JFK’s Ryan Fowler, who finished eighth overall and second-team All-Ohio, ended Saturday’s round with a 35 after shooting 43 on the front.

He began the back nine with a birdie on No. 10, bogeyed No. 11 and then finished with seven straight pars.

“Today, he strikes it after a tough front nine where you’re about ready to cave in,” St. George said. “To finish like that and knowing that, it was good. It takes a lot composure to be able to shoot that.”

It was a much different final nine than Friday’s 41 where Fowler took a seven on No. 1 after hitting three sand traps and three-putting the hole.

“He was very flustered. That led to basically that round,” St. George said.

However, he was impressed by the play of the freshman Ryan Theis and sophomore Zach Shoaf.

“You see Ryan Theis shoot a 46-42 in a stage like that – 15 years old and the driver is bigger than he is – was unbelievable,” St. George said. “Zach Shoaf has only been playing golf for seven months and shot a 91, 47-44 on that track was incredible.”

He added senior Billy Phillips has been instrumental in pushing JFK from districts to state the past two seasons. St. George said he’ll miss Phillips’ leadership.

“Billy had a good four years with me,” St. George said. “He was our steady hand during districts both years. He was a good captain and a good leader. I’m going to miss him dearly.”

There’s a good chance the Eagles won’t miss out on next year’s state tournament, which will be played at NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury. Four of JFK’s top five return in 2014.

“With experience being the best teacher, I feel very confident in this team,” St. George said. “We’re going to miss Billy, but I think everybody will step up a notch.

“I feel very confident with us trying to make another return trip.”

Saturday, JFK made the most out of its play by improving around the green.

“We putted much better. We had 23 three-putts on day one, but I know we cut that in half,” St. George said. “With 54 holes (including a practice round), you kind of get to know the course a little bit better. It still is a very challenging track.”