There are changes this season on how the post-season works in Kentucky high school golf competition.
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association said that it hopes the change increases the number of golfers advancing past the regional tournaments and to create more postseason opportunities.
After regional play, a ‘state first round’ takes place at three locations. Northern Kentucky teams will play that round at Heritage Hill Golf Course in Shepherdsville. Each region will see 20 golfers advance to the state first round for a total of 80 golfers.
The state first rounds will comprise of the top two teams and top 10 individuals from non-advancing teams from each region. In previous years, only the winning team and top seven individuals not on that qualifying team made state. A total of 90 golfers with the top three teams and 15 individuals from non-advancing teams from each site will advance to state. There will be no first-day cuts at state like previous years.
The Highlands Bluebirds have consistently made the state tournament capturing the 8th Region Tournament three times in four years. Highlands finished ninth at state last year after placing a program-best sixth in 2020.
The Bluebirds return four of the five golfers from that regional championship team including the defending 8th Region champion, senior Joel Craft. After Craft, three sophomores return in Hank Shick, Oliver Golden and Nate Surrey.
“That will be big for them this year. They won’t play on any stage that’s bigger than what they’ve ever been on,” said Bert Richey, Highlands head coach. “We play in so many tournaments for the team to be successful, they have to have the next shot mentality. They can’t dwell on the last shot whether it’s good or bad. Everything we do is 18-holes tournaments to prepare them for the 18 holes in the postseason. You have to put 18 holes together if you want to be successful in the postseason.”
The 8th Region Tournament takes place at Houston Oaks in Bourbon County. Grant County is again expected to challenge the Bluebirds for the region crown.
Over in the 7th Region, Ryle graduated its top three scorers from the 7th Region championship team that finished fourth overall at state.
The two returning golfers with state experience are juniors Palmer McKelvey and Tanner Lorms return after golfing at state last year. Freshman Paxton McKelvey is slated to step into one of the roles along with senior Mathew Marlett, who transferred in from Villa Madonna.
Ryle Head Coach Austin Zapp said the Raiders play in a lot of tournaments in the off-season and receive a lot of golf lessons. Zapp said they practice three to four times per week about four to five hours per day working a lot on the short game.
“By the time we start, I expect the kids to be in pretty good form,” Zapp said. “There is always a goal. Sometimes I won’t let the leave until the drill is done. For example, I might make them make 70 six-footers in a row before they leave or until they chip in two times.”
Covington Catholic Colonels:
The Colonels took second in the 7th Region last year. But they return two players that made it to state individually in senior Nathan Resing and junior Mitchell Gastright. Resing shot a 73 to finish fourth and Gastright shot a 75 to take seventh.
Another state qualifier in Ian Asch graduated. But head coach Alex Ammerman said senior Nick Thopar has stepped into on of the spots. A big group is in the mix to take the next two behind those three.
“This group has been a lot of fun because it’s guys that have been here for a long time,” Ammerman said. “Nate and Mitchell have played for me for three years. This group works really, really hard. The guys are seeing what guys in front of them have done in the past and are trying to sharpen their games getting ready for the year.”
Ammerman agreed the mental game goes a long way toward success. He said this is one of the strongest groups he’s had with that part of the game, especially with Thopar and Resing.
St. Henry Crusaders:
The Crusaders took third in the 7th Region shooting 311 last year. Sophomore Will Carter is back after shooting 74 in the region tournament good for a tie for fifth overall.
Senior Kevin Tobergte and Carter’s twin brother Ben also return. St. Henry Head Coach Jerod Cahill said the other spots are up for grabs among some younger golfers.
“I love the leadership from Kevin,” Cahill said. “Then obviously we have the sophomores with Will coming off a solid season going down to state. I have no doubt those three can lead us to something that will be good. At St. Henry, what we preach is mental toughness. At the end of the day, it’s about putting the ball in the right places and figuring out how to put it in the hole. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just get it done.”
The Crusaders also enjoyed success in the All A Tournament. St. Henry won the All A 9th Region crown last year before finishing third in the state tournament.
Matches began July 22.
Covington Catholic owns the two lone state championship in boys golf in Kentucky’s northern three counties in 1969 and 1984. Two individuals have state championships with Boone County’s Bruce Oldendick winning it in 1982 and Ray Hoffman winning it in 1945.