A renewed attention to the short game, and an increased emphasis on overall fitness, are the two tenets of this year’s game plan for the Bainbridge High varsity boys golf team, the combo of which returning Head Coach Austin Hurt believes will give the squad the edge they need to return victoriously to state.
The team was undefeated throughout the regular season last year, but stumbled at the big show and did not fare as well as Hurt, then in his first year at the helm, had expected.
This year, the Spartans are once again off to a great start, though admittedly not at first how they would have preferred.
A forfeit by Chief Sealth stalled the start of the season this year, handing Bainbridge a lackluster win in place of their first match, before the Spartans got down to business against Eastside Catholic, at home, Tuesday.
They nabbed a 116-91 win against the Crusaders at Wing Point Golf &Country Club, bringing their overall record to 2-0. The top points earners were seniors Andy Becker (22 points) and Brooks Lierle (21).
Senior Tad Grindeland and sophomore Parker Loverich both managed 20 points.
Rounding out the varsity roster this year are senior Garrett Aichle, sophomores Josiah George and Zack Jensen, and junior AJ Staff.
Hurt said the team was a nice mix of reliable returners and exciting new talent.
“The team’s all right,” he said. “We got some good players, some nice returners.
“We’re just looking for some new, young talent among the freshman to kind of jump in.”
Chief among the team’s fresh faces on the junior varsity side, from whom Hurt said he expects great things, is BHS freshman Ben Chapman.
“He’s probably the smallest guy on the team, but he’s got a good heart, great attitude,” the coach said. “He’s just always willing to be ready to learn.”
Though he has not decided who will fill the role of team captains yet, Hurt said he expects the seniors to step up and assume leadership roles within the squad and has thus far been impressed with their efforts.
“As a captain, I just want to see some mentorship down through the system to our sophomores, our freshmen — even our junior players that might think that they’re doing a great job,” Hurt said. “I really like seeing them take the freshmen under their wing, getting them practicing, patting them on the back and letting them know everything’s going to be fine.
“Sometimes you can get pretty down on yourself, and that’s pretty hard to come back from on the golf course.”
Looking back on his first year, Hurt, a 2006 BHS grad himself, said he was surprised and impressed by how quickly the team took to his style, which he admitted is more demanding than previous coaches.
“I thought the kids did a really good job just kind of adjusting to a new coaching style that I might have,” he said. “[I’m] a little intense on some guys. Most people think golf’s not a sport. We want to make it feel like a sport, so we’re kind of out here doing push-ups when we don’t hit the right shot or when we’re not playing smart. I’ll make the guys drop down and do 20 on the tee box.”
In fact, a general renewed focus on overall fitness is a central aspect to Hurt’s plan this season.
“Clearly, if anybody watches golf on TV, the athlete has changed tremendously,” he said. “Craig Stadler, John Daly, all those body types are changing. I would say fitness is becoming more of a precedent, eating well and staying in shape. The body moves in so many ways in the golf swing that people don’t understand who pick up a golf club for the first time.
“In reality, you’ve got to hit the ball with your feet, your legs, your hips, your arms,” Hurt explained. “Everything’s moving together, in unison.
“You can’t do that if you’re out of shape.”
Another area of increased attention for the team this year, Hurt said, is the short game, an area of skill he said was obviously lacking from the squad’s repertoire last year.
“It was very noticeable,” he said. “We’re kind of focusing on the smaller points of the game. We haven’t hit range balls one time, we’ve been chipping and putting down on the lower range every practice so far.
“People would be up here hitting balls and not practicing the things that actually lower your score,” he said. “Feel is what you need in this game, and brute force isn’t going to get you anywhere if you can’t put the ball in the hole, so that’s what we’re working on.”
Getting in shape and buckling down on the nitty gritty aspects of the game are all part of Hurt’s guiding motto: Play smarter.
“That’s what you’re trying to do,” he said. “Every time you come on the course you shouldn’t be trying to necessarily shoot your best score, but just be better than last time. That’s always what I’m trying to think about. Play smarter. I preach that as much as I can. I preached it last year and I’m preaching it this year. You got to play smarter. You got to be better. Every time you come out, make it happen.”
Drawing from his own time on the BHS team years ago, Hurt has also been preaching the benefits of camaraderie — on and off the course.
“We do everything as a team, collectively,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest part that’s been a change for a lot of the guys who might have been on varsity for the previous two years. They didn’t really mingle with the JV team too much, and now we’re playing together. We play with each other every single practice, we don’t separate.
“I kind of preach that team mentality,” he added. “Even though golf is very individualistic, you want to approach it as a team. I want these guys having good camaraderie at school, in the hallways, outside of school, on the golf course, especially.”
The Spartans moved on quickly from their win against Eastside Catholic and began preparing to host O’Dea, one of the most notorious competitors in the league, at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18.
They will play again at home after that at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26 against Ingraham.