Once the dust settled from an 18th hole penalty for Nick Krueger and a sudden-death playoff hole for Chance Fry, the Lakers sat in fifth overall with a score of 340 strokes. Gaylord (311), Forest Hills Northern (318) and Forest Hills Eastern (321) took the team-qualifying spots as the top three finishers.
Krueger led the pack with a runner-up 73, earning an individual bid to the state tournament. The junior had a shot at medalist honors coming into the final hole, but picked up a two-stroke penalty for playing the incorrect ball.
Fellow junior Chance Fry finished with an 82, tied for the third lowest score not from a qualified team, necessitating a playoff for the final spot at state. Fry would drop the bonus hole, 9-6, after putting his third shot out of bounds.
Jack Johnson followed for Spring Lake with a 92, ahead of Zack Lisman at 93 and Adam Boes at 103.
The challenges of Cedar Chase, exacerbated by the do-or-die nature of the regional finals, swallowed up some of the Laker lineup. Tight fairways and illegible greens made for a wide range of Spring Lake achievement, with tough putting costing them spots on the leaderboard.
“The guys started off a little slow,” said Spring Lake head coach Ben Armey. “We had a couple bogeys, a couple double bogeys, but then they started to settle down and pick up a couple pars.
“Zack had an up-and-down day. Not the way he wanted to finish, he was having trouble controlling his driver. Johnson shot a 42 on the front and came back in a 50, so that was tough for him to take. Adam struggled with putting. But, he had fun out there still. All the guys had fun. I don’t think they feel like they missed an opportunity necessarily, they came out here and played and just didn’t play well enough.
“I knew Whitehall was going to be good and I knew FHE was strong and Gaylord was battling with us last year. So, I knew it was going to be tough to get in,” Armey said. “I would have been happier if we made it in, but we had some high scores and took ourselves out of it. I’m OK with fifth. I’m not happy, but I’m not mad. It is nice for the guys to see how tough it is and maybe it will drive some hunger for next year.”
Krueger’s runner-up round clinched his second straight trip to the state finals. Consistent, controlled play is a key to his game and unlocked a difficult course Friday.
“His attitude is big in his success,” Armey said. “He stays real even-keeled and doesn’t let a poor shot get him down or a good shot pump him up. That is one of the hardest things for a high school golfer to do is control the emotions.”
Krueger put his poise on display down the stretch Friday. Sitting two-under-par with three holes left to play, Cedar Chase threw a curveball, handing the leader a double bogey. Krueger kept his cool, turning in a par on his penultimate hole to stay even overall.
On his final hole of the day, ball confusion cost the junior striker a sub-par score as he played an opponent’s ball by mistake on the second shot of the par 5. After taking a two-stroke penalty, Krueger was allowed to hit from his original drive and managed to save bogey.
“I was playing really well. My irons were really good. The greens were a little bumpy, so longer puts were tough. So it was good I was keeping it close with the irons. I was getting good birdie looks all day,” Krueger said. “With three left to play, I got some bad lies in the heather and took a double. Then I parred 14 to stay even and hit my drive on the par 5 down the fairway. I didn’t think I hit it great. Another guy in the group was playing a Callaway, as well. I hit his ball instead of mine, which ended up being a ways farther down the fairway.
“We got down to look at his ball and he asked what I was playing, and I knew right then what happened. At that point, I had to stay calm and finish the hole as best I can.”
The presumptive state qualifier was not worried about his position through the debacle.
“I knew this course was hard, so I knew where I was at that I would be fine,” he said. “There wasn’t pressure to eagle the hole or anything. I knew double at worst I would probably be in a good spot. I was able to birdie from my ball to bogey with the penalty and limit the damage.”
As for his qualification, it is a welcome honor for a tireless competitor.
“It feels good to be back. I’m ready to compete again,” he said. “I love two-day tournaments. You get two shots at the course and get to correct things from the first day. Bedford Valley is a scoreable course, so I’m excited.”
All that drama coming into the clubhouse wasn’t enough for the Lakers, as Chance Fry finished the day tied for the final spot at the state tournament after a roller coaster regulation round.
“It was a back-and-forth round,” Fry said. “I was hitting my irons well and my drives were fairly consistent, my chipping was decent, I just missed a few puts I should have made.”
“Chance played well,” Armey said. “He hit a few birdies with some bogeys mixed in. On his second-to-last hole he had another chance to birdie with a 10-foot putt, but just missed it.”
The missed opportunity to score sent Fry back onto the course for a one-hole playoff against a senior from Northview. The officials selected the 15th hole, the same par 5 where Krueger picked up his penalty.
“It was the first time I have ever been in a playoff,” Fry said. “I was very nervous.”
The junior sent his first shot right of the hole into a thicket of trees. His recovery shot carried the fairway, ending up on the left side of the hole. From there, Fry went for a homerun recovery with a hard swing at a tough lie in some long foliage. The shot zoomed out of bounds, all but eliminating him from contention.
“I was very nervous,” Fry said. “You could see by my tee shot. It just wasn’t my hole, I guess. It is disappointing, but you just have to learn from it.”
Krueger and Fry will both return for their senior seasons next year, while the rest of the Laker lineup embraces graduation. Krueger will take on the state finals at Bedford Valley Golf Club on June 8-9.