With three experienced golfers returning for the 2020 season, the Boonville Pirates golf team looks to pick up where they left off last spring after finishing 11-5 overall.
Now the bigger question is whether the Pirate golfers will get a chance to showcase their talents for the 2020 season.
With the coronavirus impacting every school in the state, head coach Rob VanderLinden remains optimistic on whether the Pirates would even have a season.
“I hope so but I just don’t know,” VanderLinden said. “COVID-19 didn’t really hinder what we did because golf is such a wide open sport anyway. Very rarely are we right next to each other. The kids have been there the whole time, and we’re lucky in a sense that we have a place to practice inside at Hail Ridge Golf Course.”
But right now the season has been put on hold. The Boonville R-I School District closed its doors just like a lot of schools in the state last week due to COVID-19. Boonville will resume school on Monday, April 6 barring another setback, where school has to be canceled longer.
In the meantime, the Pirates will go on with the intentions of playing in 2020.
With eight golfers suited out for the season, VanderLinden said this is a funny team in that Boonville has three very experienced golfers and then five that first touched a golf club two weeks ago.
“As much as I would like to put all the pressure on Jake Horst, Brayden Page and Grady Kay-who are the returning lettermen-we know what they are going to do this year, but the team success is how fast these five rookies get in charge of their game and start putting in some numbers.
“Golf is always about a team sport and you always have to have 4-5 decent golfers to be successful to have a successful team. We’ve had three sitting there at the top that have been very good golfers for Boonville for three years, we just need one or two of those five to jump up and take the No. 4 and 5 spot.”
While finishing six games over .500 last season, the Pirates would also like to continue their streak of winning at least one tournament. VanderLinden said Boonville has won at least one tournament the last three years.
But for that to happen, VanderLinden said Boonville will have to relay on those three years. He said Horst, Page and Kay will be the strengths of the team.
“They have really taken the leadership of the young kids,” VanderLinden said. “They have gotten them involved and shown them some of the drills we do and have shown them in practice what it takes to hit the ball they way they do.
“Now its up to me to get these kids to the point where we can compete at as a varsity level team. There are going to be some struggles, especially with the younger golfers, because we play on some difficult courses and they are going to have some tough times, but that’s all part of it.”
As for the conference this spring, VanderLinden said the top two teams from last year all lost kids. VanderLinden went on to point out that Osage has almost everybody returning so they are going to be ranked up towards the top. Southern Boone, he said, had a very young team last year and they are improving greatly. Blair Oaks is going to be up there as well with most of their team intact.
“We finished fourth last year so I think we’re going to be right in the mix with all of them with those three seniors,” VanderLinden said. “Last year when we had the conference tournament I made the comment that any of the seven teams could win our conference and I think it was all within 25 strokes from first place to last place. It’s just a strong golf conference.
“We just try to be competitive in every match. I do take the duals seriously. I like to have winning records in the duals, but it’s going to take 4-5 kids to play good all the time to be competitive.”
If the season continues, VanderLinden knows he has three seasoned golfers in Horst, Page and Kay.
Horst returns after finishing fourth in the conference tournament last year while Page placed 10th overall.
Although Horst and Page bounced back and forth between No. 1 and 2 last spring, VanderLinden said it’s been Grady Kay who has shown great improvement.
“I believe Grady has the lowest stroke average of the practice rounds we’ve had this year so he’s made a big jump this year. I will figure averages of the practice rounds, and I think we still have one left, and that will determine positions 1-8. Basically, the top five averages are varsity and it can rotate throughout the year.”
As for Horst, he returns as a two-time all-conference performer and was one stroke away from going to state last year. Page was two strokes away from qualifying for state in 2019.
VanderLinden said all three golfers have done a great job of improving and have cut their scores during practice rounds.
“Jake has the experience now,” VanderLinden said. “There is not a situation that he hasn’t been involved in. He knows how to handle himself out on the course, and he knows that if he has a bad hole or two, he’ll bounce back. They’re all at that point. Are they the best golfers in the state, no, but they’re all above average. There’s always room for improvement. I always tell the kids that golf is a sport that you cannot always perfect. You just hope they tie it all in at the same time.”
While the No. 1-3 spots are all but secured, VanderLinden said he doesn’t know who fills out the lineup at the No. 4 and 5 positions and won’t know until the team returns back to practice.
“I have seen a lot of improvement from the other golfers since Day 1,” VanderLinden said. “I always tell them that it doesn’t matter how good you are or how bad you are, where you’re going to save strokes and where you are going to improve your scoring, is your short game of chipping and putting and just spending time on the green putting. It’s just an important part of the game and everyone can improve on their short game.”