When junior Daniel LaPolla and the John F. Kennedy boys golf team head down to their second consecutive state tournament, all but one (junior Ryan Fowler) of the five members will be facing a course they've never seen before - the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University.
In 2012, the Eagles totalled 681 strokes, good enough for eighth place in the Division III tournament, but they played those rounds at North Star Golf Resort in Sunbury. This time, they will play on a course that has hosted 10 NCAA Men's golf championships, as well as numerous PGA tour and amateur events.
LaPolla, one of the three players who participated in the tournament last year (Fowler and senior Billy Phillips are the other two), said he knows a few people who have played the course, but considering the course was redesigned in 2005 and 2006 by Ohio State alumnus and 18-time major-winner Jack Nicklaus, those people can't help him too much in preparation for the tournament, which begins on Friday.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
The John F. Kennedy boys golf team is making its second straight trip to the Division III?state golf tournament in Columbus. Pictured from left to right are, coach Jim St. George, Zach Shoaf, Billy Phillips, Ryan Fowler, Daniel LaPolla and Ryan Theis.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
JFK’s Billy Phillips practices his sand shot from a green-side bunker at Trumbull Country Club on Monday afternoon. The Eagles begin the state tournament on Friday.
"It's all new to us," LaPolla said. "I've actually had a few people that I've talked to that played it before, but that was a long time ago and they can only give you so much advice. It'll be something different."
Kennedy coach Jim St. George said this course will be prove to be the toughest the team has played on all season, but he also emphasized just how special the opportunity of playing on such a high-caliber course will be, with it considered one of the best college golf courses in the country.
"I tell the kids, 'This will be the chance of a lifetime. You can't play on a nicer track in your high school career, and you only get a chance every other year,' " St. George said. "This one is going to take more accuracy, but also how do you get out of trouble. If you don't get in it, that's great, but I definitely think it's going to be a harder track than what we played last year."
St. George emphasized accuracy because the biggest challenge the course presents is its obstacles.
To go along with a lengthening of the course (7,400 yards total) in 2006, the size, number and shapes of the bunkers were redesigned to make them tougher. Players and the coach all said the goal is to avoid as many of the bunkers as possible, but just in case they do hit them, the team has practiced all week trying to work on getting out of the sand.
"(Monday), we practiced a majority in bunkers, so we we're preparing ourselves should we get into some of the bunkers down there," Phillips said. "We've done really well in the bunkers so far, so it should be no problem."
Despite all the challenges involved with the course, Kennedy is looking to improve upon its eighth-place finish from last season, and the team's strategy is to get off to a quick start.
In 2012, the Eagles finished the first day in ninth place, putting themselves in too deep a hole on the second day to recover. St. George explained that this year, the Eagles want to put themselves in the top half out of 12 teams in order to tee off later in the morning on Saturday and to keep themselves within striking distance of a high finish.
"What I've learned experience-wise between the two is you got to be ready Day 1 and you have to shoot your best round Day 1," St. George said. "There's too much ground to make up Day 2, so we're going to be a lot of emphasis on that in practice."
Much of the team's chances for a quick start could come from the fourth and fifth members of the team - sophomore Zach Shoaf and freshman Ryan Theis. With the two having no state golf experience, Phillips said he's noticed the two underclassmen are starting to get nervous, but he and the others are giving them advice about playing with a cool head and not worry about making mistakes.
If they can accomplish that, there's a good chance the Eagles can improve on last year's results. LaPolla said the goal is to total 320 strokes as a team collectively, which should put them in prime position.
"If we go into it with good morale and we stay focused on our 320 goal, I think we'll be OK," Lapolla said. "If we shoot that or around that, we'll have a good chance of being in the top five."