Knights are an aberration in high school golf

By Steve Sell
May 15, 2018

What the Salina Sacred Heart boys golf team has done this season boggles the mind and it’s probably the most under-reported story in the state.

Especially when you consider the depressed state of high school golf in Kansas.

On Monday, the Knights — who earlier this season won the McPherson Invitational at Turkey Creek — tore apart Hillsboro Municipal Golf Course. The six Knights finished 1st through 6th, led by freshman medalist Kameron Shaw, who blazed a 6-under-par 64.

Also for Sacred Heart, sophomore Tate Herrenbruck shot a 67 and his senior brother Grant shot 69. Seniors Cole Elmore and Quinten Shaw fired 72 and 74, respectively, while senior Rase Welch shot a 75.

Just think. Quinten Shaw and Welch’s scores DIDN’T COUNT. The Knights shot a staggering 272 as a team, 8-under-par. They won by 86 STROKES!

Contrast that with some of the scores of other regionals around the state and it is truly a jaw-dropping accomplishment.

I have played Hillsboro many times. It’s a nice course, but hardly a pitch-and-putt. For the Knights to put up PGA-like numbers is ridiculous. It does help that the par is 70, but that doesn’t make any difference. This team can simply light it up and another state title next week is just a forgone conclusion.

The Knights, however, are an aberration. After watching the AVCTL and regional tournaments the last two weeks and seeing other scores from around Kansas, I’m convinced that high school golf is declining.

There’s still great players, don’t get me wrong. There are many kids who will be going on to the next level at college, be it Division I, Division II or junior college. But the depth of teams has thinned considerably. Those fourth, fifth and sixth players often are in the 90s or 100s.

I grew up in a time (mid 1970s) when high school golf was experiencing a boon. There were players like Rod Nuckolls of Wichita and Steve Brown of Salina, two of the legendary players of that era who were in my senior class of 1975.

 I played for Independence High School, which has had a proud tradition. When I was in high school — when there was two- and four-man competition and state was 36 holes — our mighty Bulldogs were often state championship contenders. In fact, Indy won either a two-man or four-man state title four times just in the 1970s.

But I looked at the Bulldogs’ scores from the Coffeyville regional on Monday and I gasped. The team shot a 455, well off the 310s and low 320s that we shot in my day. 

My alma mater’s decline follows a trend. There were six Class 4A regionals on Monday and only 19 players broke 80 — eight of them coming at the Wellington regional. There were two regionals where just one golfer broke 80. And at Turkey Creek, which has a par-70, only two players broke 80 — and one of them was Chase Dillon, who torched The Creek for a 66 for a 12-shot win.

Many years ago, I used to be the co-coach of the McPherson High golf team. We won the school’s only state championship (5A) in 1991 and had a 312 on a memorable rainy Monday at Independence Country Club, which made me the proudest person you’d ever see. The kids on our team, led by medalist Skip Pankewich and runner-up Brian Stauffer, followed the game plan to a T. Knowing every strand of grass at ICC, I gave the players a sheet to follow how to play the course and we beat mighty Kapaun that year.

But after I left coaching, I noticed a downfall in high school golf. I understand, it’s an expensive sport when you figure the cost of clubs, golf balls and shoes. It’s not for everybody. But it breaks my heart to see the interest in the game decline. At the league meet, two of the schools didn’t even bring a full team. 

I wish I had the answers. I love golf and at the high school level I want to see the sport flourish like it was in my playing days nearly 45 years ago. But I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to those halcyon days.