COLUMBUS – Traditionally Galion hasn’t been consistent at the Division II state tournament.
“I like the word traditionally, it has a nice ring to it,” Galion coach Bryce Lehman laughed.
Granted, the state tournament itself isn’t consistent altering between the Ohio State University Scarlet Course and NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury every year.
But only once — the team’s first trip of this now six-year stretch in 2017 — did the Tigers’ two-day score nearly mirror itself with a 328-330. Since then, only one other time in 2020 were the two scores within single digits of each other.
This year’s trip was no different with Galion firing a 338 on Friday to sit in fourth before following it up with a 355 for a two-day 693 total and a seventh place finish.
“The weekend as a whole I’m proud of them,” Lehman said. “(Friday) we didn’t have the wind for the first nine holes and it kicked up for our second nine, and we held it together. We woke up this morning at the hotel and realized the wind already started, Mother Nature didn’t do us any favors with very little rain over the last week and a half down here. The course was really hard and fast, balls weren’t checking on the greens. It’s the same way for everyone, but it was a pretty tough course for two days.
“We just had a couple bad holes early on, generally we can come back from that — and we tried to — but a couple of those holes turned into a string of three or four bad in a row. We wanted to be in the top four, but we just had a bad second day. We’re conference champs, districts champs and a state qualifier, what more could you ask for?”
A top-four finish would’ve been the cherry on top for this year, but just getting back to state for a sixth consecutive season was a success. Senior Nick McMullen led the Tigers with a 164 (82-82) to place 20th as an individual in his fourth state appearance — an achievement in it of itself.
“It’s really cool, we’ve had a lot of success and it hasn’t been the same kids every year, either,” McMullen said. “My sophomore year we graduated three seniors so we had to bring up new kids. There’s no better way to cap off your year than the state tournament at OSU Scarlet. It could’ve been worse, the conditions were tough. I had to grind it out all day. I played better on the back today than I did yesterday, I had a good front yesterday, then the wind picked up.”
Junior Logan Keller shot a 171 (81-90), sophomore Nate McMullen a 177 (86-91), senior Nate Barre 181 (89-92) and senior Braylen Hart 192 (96-96).
The state tournament is a unique animal as a two-day event, unlike anything these golfers see during the regular season. The only chance they get to prepare for it is over the summer in various tournaments in Ohio or across the Midwest.
“It helps the kids in the two day tournaments to know, hey, I’m not done yet,” Lehman said. “I need to go out and do it again. Holding it together for a high school kid period for two days at a place like this, then you get 20 to 30 miles per hour gusts and the greens are like putting on a pool table. I think there’s a benefit to that, and I know my kids play a lot in the summertime.
“And the ones that get in two day tournaments have that experience … it certainly helps.”
Kettering Archbishop Alter won its first title since 1999 with a 618 after finishing the last three years as runner-up to Columbus Academy and the two years prior to that in third. Alter junior Davis Gochenouer was medalist with a six-over 148 (72-76) and his sophomore teammate TJ Kreusch was runner-up at 150 (77-73).
Future is still bright in Galion
Typically when you lose four seniors from a state team, you need a year or two to rebuild.
But Galion isn’t your typical program, the Tigers have an outstanding junior high program so that when one era departs, a new one begins.
“The cupboard is not bare,” Lehman said. “Logan and Nate McMullen come back, (freshman) Carson Walker should be on varsity next year. We’re going to have some spots to fill with incoming freshmen, but we’ve done that before with Matt (McMullen) and Spencer (Keller), Nick as a freshman was our three-man and second team Northwest District his freshman year.
“We have some work to do, but we have our junior high program that keeps sending kids our way and there are some good players down there. There are some kids coming up who are here right now, they’re in seventh grade and itching to (make it here).”
That says all you need to know about the program Lehman has built and the culture around it. Future Tigers going out of their way to make the trek down to Columbus to soak in the atmosphere and get a taste of what it’s like to be at the state tournament.
“We had our walk through the high school — we call it the ‘Walk of Fame’ — and we invited the junior high team to walk with us,” Lehman said. “Their eyes are big … and one kid asked if it was our second year in a row going to state. I told him it was our sixth and he said, we’re going to make it seven next year. Seeing that excitement about golf in Galion, this year was our 29th league title and nobody holds a candle to that.
“Being one of the top teams in the Northwest District and one of the top 12 schools in Ohio, that speaks volumes of the dedication and work these kids put into it.”
The Tigers of tomorrow aren’t the only ones that was to see this streak continue, Nick McMullen issued a challenge to the incoming freshmen to start preparation for next fall as soon as possible.
“We have to get these middle schoolers out and playing because we’re graduating four seniors,” he said. “We’re counting on freshmen next year, so we have to get some of these eighth graders on the course this summer to get them ready for next year.”