When competing against the best golfers in the state, every little edge counts, and Lawrence High senior Jon Cohen has a big one going into today’s Class 6A boys high school golf tournament at Alvamar Country Club.
Cohen’s family has a membership at Alvamar, so he can play the course whenever he wants, which is pretty much every day.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who knows this course better than I do, in the field or at the club,” Cohen said. “I know this course just as well as I could know any course. I’m hoping that will help me.”
Cohen has tried to impart as much of that knowledge as possible to his only other teammate to qualify for the tournament that features tee times on No. 1 and No. 10 starting at 8 a.m. and going through 9:50 a.m.
For the past couple of years, Alex Thompson, who signed a letter of intent to play golf at Truman State, has been mining the local knowledge of Cohen, who will continue his education and golf career at Grinnell College.
“We’ve been coming out here whenever we can just to plot the course and show him the ropes,” Cohen said. “There are a lot of tricks out here. The more he knows, the better he’ll do. We’re teammates, so whatever I know, he needs to know.”
They won’t be playing together. Every foursome features one golfer from each of the four regions of Kansas. The four regional champions — Hunter Leichner of Wichita Heights, David Catt of Shawnee Mission Northwest, Harry Higgs of Blue Valley North and Dodge City High freshman Zach Kirby — will be the last foursome to tee off No. 1.
Thompson, who plays most of his golf at Alvamar public and works there as a cart boy, tees off No. 10 at 8 a.m. Cohen tees off No. 10 two groups later, at 8:20. Free State senior Connor Klutman tees off No. 1 at 8:30, and classmate Evan Schmidt tees off No. 1 at 9 a.m.
Both Lawrence High state golfers have been taking private lessons the past couple of years from Drew Cote, Alvamar’s teaching pro.
“They both know how to keep their heads in the game,” Cote said. “When things aren’t going well, they know they have a couple birdies coming, and they keep their composure.”
The LHS classmates have different styles.
“Jon is a really solid ball-striker, and he has a really good touch around the greens,” Cote said. “Alex is a good power player. He hits a sweeping draw and has a good putting touch.”
Thompson’s ability to drive the ball a long way won’t help him as much as it would if the tourney were being held upstairs, at Alvamar public. Thompson estimated he has played the private side about 25 times.
“Jon’s helped me quite a bit, especially with the greens, and Jon’s a smart player, and he knows where to hit the ball on this course,” said Thompson, in the midst of a practice round downstairs after sweeping the spider webs out of the cart barn upstairs.
Thompson said he became a more consistent ball-striker after Cote changed his grip and imparted other tips.
Cohen called Cote “a genius. He’s fixed my swing a bunch. He can cure a slice or he can cure a draw, whatever it is.”
Cohen, who said 74 is his lowest score on his home course, expressed gratitude that Alvamar applied to host the tournament for his senior year.
“What I like about the course for this tournament is it’s tricky and probably not very fair for people who haven’t played it,” Cohen said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m really happy that it’s here, and I get to take advantage of the local knowledge that I have.”
His game suits the course, but he knows with so much talent competing it’s going to take more than that to mount a challenge for the state title.
“I pride myself in not making double bogeys, keeping it in play, not making mental errors, not shooting myself in the foot,” Cohen said. “You still have to execute. That’s going to be the tough part.”