Two of the players attempting to lead Center Grove’s boys golf program to its first state championship have been there and done that.
At this time last year, Noah Gillard was the second player in coach Jim Williams’ lineup — a lanky, sweet-swinging ninth-grader unaffected by his surroundings at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel.
Ethan Shepherd as the No. 5 player gained valuable experience, as well.
Gillard and Shepherd, now the top two players for the state’s No. 1-ranked squad, find themselves back at Prairie View in an attempt to take care of unfinished business.
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Center Grove fell four shots short of eventual champion Westfield over 36 holes at the 2015 state finals, 584 to 588.
Disappointing as it was, both Gillard and Shepherd admit the experience — conducted in a variety of weather conditions — forced their games to grow.
“I think it will help out a lot. Knowing the course and knowing what to expect. The greens are a lot faster, the rough is longer,” said Gillard, who finished in a three-way tie for ninth-place individually with a one-over-par 74-71—145.
“We just know what to expect and will be telling the other three players what to expect, as well. We’ll tell them it’s just another round of golf, which it is. At the end of the day you’ve just got to play your game.”
Shepherd, a junior, has enjoyed a breakthrough season.
In April, he shot 69 at The Legends Invitational to lead the Trojans to a team score of 295. Shepherd has since secured medalist honors at two showcase events at Prairie View — the State Preview and the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference Meet — with respective scores of 68 and 69.
Something of a novice at Prairie View a year ago, Shepherd has a better understanding of how putts break and which club to use in specific situations.
“It’s a pretty fair course, so I think it favors the best teams because no one can just go out there and kind of play out of their minds. It’s going to be a fair test for everybody,” said Shepherd, who tied for 37th individually in his State Finals last June debut with a nine-over 79-74—153.
“It’s just the mindset of knowing what the course is like. Going there knowing how it’s going to feel,”
Both Gillard and Shepherd have been outstanding during sectional and regional competition in recent weeks.
Shepherd’s 70 was good for second at the Southport Sectional at The Legends. Gillard struggled on the front nine with an uncharacteristic 40 that day, but responded with a 32 on the back.
At Thursday’s Providence Regional at Champions Pointe Golf Club in Henryville, Gillard fired a 72 compared to Shepherd’s 75.
Center Grove’s players are scheduled to tee off this morning between 9:12 and 9:57. Trojans players are in foursomes with players from Evansville North, Homestead and Chatard.
All 15 teams qualified will play 36 holes. Pairings and tee times for Wednesday will be determined by today’s first round.
Nine of the programs qualified for this year’s State Finals were also at Prairie View a year ago, including the top five finishers in the final team standings – Westfield, Center Grove, Zionsville, Hamilton Southeastern and Fort Wayne Dwenger.
IF YOU GO
What: Boys State Golf Finals
When: Today and Wednesday, 8 a.m. (both days)
Where: Prairie View Golf Club, Carmel
Admission: $12 per person (ticket good for both days)
Teams competing: Center Grove, Evansville Memorial, Lafayette Harrison, Bloomington South, Evansville North, Zionsville, Chatard, Fort Wayne Dwenger, Homestead, Yorktown, Westfield, Vincennes Lincoln, Bedford North Lawrence, Columbia City, Hamilton Southeastern.