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By David Popko
GC Head Golf Coach
The Glenwood City Hilltoppers golf team had a season to remember this year, punctuated with an exclamation point by a trip to the WIAA state competition at Blackwolf Run on June 6th and 7th. For finishing second in the sectional competition at Turtleback this year, the boys’ team earned the right to compete alongside the other finalists from the four sectionals across the state.
The competition featured two rounds of eighteen holes, with one round on Monday, June 6th, and a second round on Tuesday, June 7th. Typically the state tournament would take place at the University of Madison University Ridge course. However, this course was hosting a tournament on the scheduled weekend, so the state WIAA relocated the tournament to the golf complex in Kohler, Wisconsin. At Blackwolf Run, there are several of the best golf courses in the entire country–including the Whistling Straits course that recently hosted the Ryder Cup last year.
The boys ventured down with their coach, David Popko, as well as each of their parents to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience come true. The team arrived on Sunday at 1 pm to play their practice round. Popko pointed out that, “for the first few holes the boys were visitors to the Wonka Chocolate factory and it took a bit to calm them down.” That considered, the team walked the course which featured a difficulty rating unlike anything they had faced all year. As Popko would state, “even after Turtleback, the boys were on a course that was more like an entry-level professional competition than anything we knew from the season.”
Indeed, the Hilltoppers golf team learned about how each of the holes on the course was named, faced undulating fairways and deeply sloped greens with a speed unrivaled anywhere this season. After a practice round in Kohler, the team prepared themself for the next two days by warming up the following morning on an almost one-acre putting green with a sound system, adjacent par three course, and 18 individual holes to putt and chip on.
As the entire tournament took place with three divisions and 32 teams, the boys had to wait until 12:30 on the 6th to tee off in a wash of drizzle and soggy conditions. While this was a challenge, the team did very well to compete through the difficulty. As their coach would say, “They worked really hard to persevere and stay dry. The rough was up to their knees in most locations and was not like any course they knew. They shed the intimidation and performed admirably, considering.”
After the first 18 holes, the boys came in with reasonable, although not particularly competitive scores. Senior Owen Swenby posted a 46 and a 52 to earn a 98. Junior Ian Radintz carded a slightly better 49 and 47 to record a 96. Junior Gabe Knops scored a 49 and 54 to total a 103. Freshman Esdyn Swenby shot a 52 and 46 to earn a 98. Finally, freshman Charlie Lamb scored a 51 and 52 to total a 103. The team shot a 395 and was sitting in seventh place. As Popko would summarize it, “considering we faced awful rough, holes with peninsula greens, and putting surfaces the professionals use daily, I thought we did alright.”
After drying out that evening with a nice dinner, the boys woke up early to compete at 7:30. While the course conditions were improved, this meant faster greens and a start on the more challenging back nine. Having walked and played 18 holes of golf on Sunday and again on Monday, the boys were a bit fatigued by Tuesday. This led to a rough start. On the front nine, the team struggled as Lamb and Esdyn Swenby both posted 51s, Knops and Radintz carded 52s, and Owen Swenby earned a 46.
When considering the scores, Coach Popko helped to put things into perspective. As he stated, “You have to remember that the boys had an average of 193 this season. On their best day, they carded a 184. We were up against teams that regularly shoot in the 160s. This had an intimidation factor to a degree when combined with the course.” The Toppers had scored a 200 on the second to last round of the year. They knew they needed to improve.
The final nine holes saw exactly that happen. While fatigue remained a factor, the boys improved their scores considerably. Owen Swenby punctuated a fine career with Glenwood by shooting 46 on the back as well to gain a season-best 18 of 92. Considering that this was on one of the hardest courses in Wisconsin if not the country, this was a nice achievement. Radintz improved from his back nine to post a 50 and earn a 102. Knops did not have the same luck and he finished with a 110. The highlight of the final round was a strong showing from both freshmen. Lamb carded a 49 on the front to shoot a season-best 18 of 100 and Esdyn Swenby managed the same feat with a 46 to post a 97.
Ultimately, the Hilltoppers earned a score of 391 – improving on the first day by four strokes and scoring a 786 for the tournament. When the dust settled, the team finished eighth at state…narrowly missing out to Wabeno/Laona by 1 stroke for seventh.
Asking Popko to reflect back on the season, he offered the following: “The thing I am most proud of with this team is that each one of them carried the weight for each other at some point this year. This was not a team with one individual carrying everyone. Charlie helped us post season lows at times. Esdyn helped us win our first Dunn-St. Croix Conference meet in years with a medallist performance. When we needed a performance, someone always stepped up. Gabe moved us on to sectionals. Ian stepped up to push us to state. Through it all, Owen was a rock and an awesome leader. I couldn’t ask for a better team.” The Toppers will return all of the team next year with the exception of senior Owen Swenby.
Those interested in Glenwood golf should consider attending the Hilltopper Golf Skills Camp should register with Ms. Haltinner at the school. The event runs July 18-22nd at Glen Hills and costs ten dollars. It is open to all adolescents in grades 3 through 8 (incoming freshmen).