With three groups still out on the course, Lawrence High’s Joe Noller — already in the clubhouse with a 76 — headed to the practice green to prepare for a playoff he assumed was in his future.
It never came.
Instead, Noller, steady as ever, walked away with the 2009 Class 6A regional title Monday at Alvamar Country Club after firing the low round of the eight-team regional — 38 on the front nine and 38 on the back.
Noller’s wasn’t the only feel-good story for the home teams Monday. Far from it, in fact. But it was the best, particularly considering where he came from to get there.
“He shot 88 last Wednesday (at the Lawrence Invitational) and was just embarrassed by it,” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. “But he came out during the next few days and worked his tail off to get back on track. I love kids who work hard and get rewarded. He’s put in the time and effort, and winning a regional title is a pretty neat deal.”
For Noller, who learned of his victory from teammate Spencer Scott as Scott prepared to finish up on No. 18, the victory was beyond neat. It was incredible.
“It’s a cool feeling just to win a big tournament like this,” Noller said. “It’s my home course so I was comfortable out here. Nothing was great today, all aspects of my game were pretty decent.”
Aside from a chip-in on No. 10, Noller’s scorecard was filled mostly with solid pars. Playing in strong winds and perfect temperatures, Noller shot the tournament’s low score on both sides and finished one stroke ahead of two others, Olathe Northwest’s Matt Green and Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Jackson Foth, both of whom shot 77s.
Backed by a top-10 finish from teammate Jon Cohen (84) and two more rounds in the 80s — Scott (88) and Alex Thompson (89) — the LHS golf team finished third at regionals (337) and claimed the final team spot at next week’s Class 6A state tournament in Topeka.
“That’s a lot more important than the individual result,” Noller said.
The feat marks the first time in the Wedd era that the Lions have qualified for state as a team.
LHS athletic director Ron Commons, who coached golf at LHS for 29 years, said he could not remember the last time the Lions qualified as a team.
For Cohen, the team’s lone state qualifier in 2008, the feat was particularly sweet.
“Last year, I was all on my own, and I didn’t play that well and didn’t do LHS any favors as far as how I represented the school,” said Cohen, who defeated Free State’s Parker Liebl in a one-hole playoff for eighth place. “This is all we wanted this year, to qualify for state. We’ll take our chances when we get there. We have a team that’s capable of making some noise.”
Joining the Lawrence High team — which also includes Tyler Kahn (93) and Steve Melton (98) — at state will be a pair of Free State High individual qualifiers. Although the Firebirds’ team score of 348 put them in fifth place, Liebl (84) and Seth McCauley (85) shot low enough to earn two of the six individual spots reserved for the golfers with the best scores on non-qualifying teams.
For Liebl, who chipped in twice for par on the front nine alone, the end result was all that mattered.
“My goal was to qualify,” he said. “I didn’t really have a number in mind.”
For McCauley, who was the Firebirds’ only state qualifier in 2008, fighting his way back to state allowed him to walk away from Monday’s meet satisfied.
“I’m content, to be honest with you,” McCauley said. “I’m just glad I did it again. I thought if I shot 83 that I’d make it. I’m a little surprised that I made it with 85, but I’ll take it.”
The LHS team, as well as the Free State individuals, will compete at the Class 6A state meet on May 26 at Shawnee Country Club in Topeka.
“This team has not clicked yet,” Wedd said of the Lions. “We haven’t all put together our A-game on the same day yet. And I’m excited we get one more shot to do it.”