NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Early in the golf season, the bad weather and cold temperatures made it difficult for the North Platte golf team to have a consistent practice schedule.
North Platte high school's Finn Lucas tees off during a practice round in preparation for the state golf meet. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)
"It's hard to practice rhythm down and you just feel like you're getting going, and then you got snow and you can't practice for a few days," said head coach Jim Orcutt, "So in that respect it's been hard to get our footing as far as consistency is concerned."
"Lately, we've gotten some better weather, some warmer temperatures, and I think it's looking better, but we're still making too many mistakes," Orcutt added.
Drew Phillips, a senior on the team who finished tied for the lead at the district meet, thinks the team is just starting to play its best golf.
"At the start of the season we didn't have much practice, so we were kind of rusty, but now that the weather's getting better, we're all out here a lot more, so we're definitely way sharper than we were at the start of the season," Phillips said.
At the district meet in North Platte, Phillips tied teammate Finn Lucas and Cozad's Adam Cole for the top score, and the three golfers competed in a playoff hole to determine the winner.
Orcutt said he told his golfers to, "Take some deep breaths when you need to, stay loose, and just trust your swing and let it go."
"I actually didn't know I was in contention until after the last hole, coach K actually finally told me. But I figured I was close when on 16 I saw everybody come out to watch," Lucas said.
Lucas won the playoff hole, and of the experience he said, "It was nice for me to come through at district that gives me a lot of confidence going to state so I'm glad it worked like that."
"Every shot they hit in that playoff is going to do them good," Orcutt said of the high pressure performance Phillips and Lucas found themselves in at Lake Maloney golf course.
Not only did the North Platte team qualify for the state meet, all five of the Bulldog golfers finished in the top ten to automatically qualify as individuals. In addition to Phillips and Lucas tying at the top of the standings, Jayden Jones and Tanner Ruda finished in a four-way tie for fourth, and Kasch Morrison tied for tenth.
"This is one of the most balanced teams, one through six, that I've ever been part of. When one guy is having a bad day, somebody seems to step up and pick up his slack," Orcutt said of the team's deep talent.
The Bulldog golfers push each other at practice, and it helps them perform better at meets.
"We're out here competing at practice just as hard as we are in tournaments with each other, because we all want to better each other. It's good to have some good players, we've got a pretty deep team this year," Phillips said.
"We always are competing with each other at practice. We always have little games and side bets going on, so that's helping us quite a bit with our overall golf game," Ruda said.
"It's really nice to have a really good team top to bottom, because we're competing everyday at practice, it's helping us get better throughout the season," Lucas said.
Heading into the state meet, Ruda is confident in the way he's playing, despite some mistakes in the district meet.
"I'm pretty confident going into state. My golf game has definitely gotten better as this season's progressed. There's a couple of mistakes I made down stretch that definitely hurt, but as a whole it was pretty good day for me," Ruda said.
The Class B state meet will be at Elk's Country Club in Columbus. Some of the players have played the course before, but the team took time Monday to play a practice round.
"Everybody but one has played there as well. The experience on that course helps a lot, it's a treeline fairways, pretty thick rough, small greens, so you really kind of need to hit the fairway from the tee, and hopefully have a pretty good short game,” Orcutt said of the course.
Phillips is optimistic about the team's chances in the meet. "We just all want to play really solid, we want to put two days togethe,r we want to go out there and play with some fire and make a lot of birdies. Hopefully we'll do well. I think we can," he said.