By Chris Chaney
A nasty day at the district golf tournament at Weatherwax Golf Club in Middletown, Ohio washed away three Clermont County golfers’ hopes of prolonging their season at the state tournament.
Mitchell McElfresh of Bethel-Tate, Bryce Kroeger of New Richmond and Austin Conner of Batavia all advanced out of the Division II sectional tournament individually to earn a spot in the district tournament field.
A saturated golf course and multiple weather delays turned the 18-hole round into a six and a half hour mental grind that got the best of the Clermont golfers.
Conner, the lone senior in the trio, shot nine-holes scores of 46-53 for an 18-hole total of 99, good enough for a tie for 66th.
“It was a rough day,” Batavia head coach Randy Jones said. “(Conner) got flustered early on; I think he put too much pressure on himself and didn’t play his typical game. Even with that, there was so many good golfers out there, I don’t know with his ‘A’ game if it would have been good enough.”
Per Ohio High School Athletic Association regulations, only two individuals from the Southwest District advanced to state — Oakwood’s Tripp French, who medaled with a 6-under par 66 on the Woodside and Highlands courses and Eaton’s Cameron Willis who shot a 1-over par 73.
The conditions made it difficult for Conner, whose nine-hole season average was 42.67, especially considering what he was used to playing in.
“We had such good weather all year and he was used to playing in 80-degree temperatures with the ground hard. It was totally the opposite (at districts). The ball would stick wherever he hit it, the greens were slower. He was not used to that.”
New Richmond’s Bryce Kroeger fared better than Conner in the elements, but still didn’t do enough to move on to state. Just a junior, Kroeger will have another shot at going upstate next season.
“Kroeger represented New Richmond very well,” New Richmond head coach Phil Heflin wrote on the school’s sports blog. “In a round that was delayed three times, he shot a respectable 84.”
Kroeger shot nine-hole rounds of 41-43.
The youngest of the three Clermont golfers, Bethel’s McElfresh matched Kroeger’s 84 to share low Southern Buckeye Conference golfer honors.
“I think the rain affected him a little bit, but he had a really good attitude about it,” Bethel head coach Brett Harris said. “(The hardest rain) was his worst hole; he made a triple bogey. He really had a good attitude. We talked about playing in the elements — wind and rain — and you have to play the same as if it were sunny out. You can’t predict the rain, so you shouldn’t change how you play in it.”
As a sophomore, McElfresh showed flashes of potential that could lead him beyond the district tournament before his time as a Tiger is through.
“I’ve played a lot of golf with Mitchell this year and I thought (the district) was the best he’s hit the golf ball with his irons all year,” Harris said. “I know he was disappointed with his score, but I thought from tee to green, it was the best he played all year. I don’t think his score reflected how well he played.”
Like Kroeger, McElfresh will have more opportunities to advance upstate, which Harris believes could come as soon as next year if he continues to improve.
“I thought he made as big of a jump as he could have expected from his freshman to sophomore year,” Harris explained. “I think he knows for him to make another jump, it’s not going to be a big thing, it’ll be smaller things. Small goals and course management are really going to affect his scores next year and make him more consistent.”
While these three pack up the sticks for the season, four more will tee it up at Weatherwax on Oct. 10 in the Division I district tournament.
Milford’s co-ed trio of Megan Creager, Aly Severns and Nathan Arnold and Glen Este’s Brandon Gillespie will try their hand at taming the Wax when they put the ball in the air beginning with tee times at 10:40 a.m. on Thursday.