SANDWICH — The annual Sandwich Indian Golf Invitational is always an exciting event, because it signals the unofficial start of the high school sports season.
This year would be no different, and the Ottawa Pirates took full advantage of the opportunity to go out early and grab some immediate momentum Thursday afternoon here at Edgebrook Golf Course in Sandwich.
Playing within the Stableford Scoring System format — awarding points for various hole results (eagle = 7, birdie = 4, par = 2, bogey = 1) instead of the more conventional stroke play — the Pirates piled up 95 points, good enough for second place just one tally shy of team champion Richmond-Burton.
Four other Times-area teams competed in the 16-school field, with Newark-Serena placing fifth (89 points), Seneca sixth (77), Somonauk 11th (54) and Sandwich 14th (17).
Medals were awarded for the top-10 individual golfers, where junior T.J. McDonnell of Ottawa finished second with 33 points, one short of champion Gabe LaPapa of Aurora Christian, who notched 34 tallies.
Junior Connor Baker of Newark-Serena was the only other area medalist after carding a 24, placing him in a three-way tie for eighth place individually.
But it was the Pirates' day to lead the area contingents, also getting double-digit scoring from Drake Stoudt (22), Caden Ericson (18) and Nick Angus (13).
"Not a bad start to the season for us at all," said OHS coach Keith Budzowski. "Last year we took third place here, so any improvement is good improvement. I think for an opening tournament like this the new scoring system is great not allowing a kid to get any worse than a bogey, which keeps their mental stability going instead of breaking them down after one or two bad holes.
"This was a great event today, and I was really happy with our effort to start the season."
McDonnell was equally pleased after two birdies, 11 pars and just three bogeys.
"It was much more relaxed with this type of scoring format, and you didn't have to worry about getting worse than a bogey," McDonnell said. "For me, that really helped me stay calm, especially with this being our first tournament of the year."
For the New-Ser Norsemen, after Baker's one birdie, six pars and eight bogeys that led the way, seniors Corey Jacobson and Brett Myre fired 23 and 20, respectively, to help the Norsemen post a solid effort.
"I think if we would have actually had stroke play today we would have been OK too, but this was a nice 18-hole event to start the season," said New-Ser coach Chad Baker. "This was a lot less stress and a fun event where Connor, Corey and Brett played very well, as did all of our other guys."
Seneca's best effort came from junior Brett Yegge, who matched Jacobson's 23 and a tie for 11th place individually to pace the Fighting Irish. Alex Stiegler was next in line with 16 points.
"We don't have any seniors on our squad, so I think our kids did pretty well today," said Seneca assistant coach Todd Yegge. "I saw a lot of good shots, and obviously we have some things to work on, but overall it was a good start."
Somonauk's top performance came from senior Jake Norris, who carded 22 tallies, good enough for a four-way tie for 13th place (which included Ottawa's Stoudt).
The host Indians struggled without two of their top golfers due to injury. Still, senior Tyler Bols led the way with seven points.
"Even though we didn't score so well today, I was very proud with our guys' effort," said Sandwich coach and event coordinator Mike Butler. "Overall, it was a great day with the format switch that left a lot of kids smiling when they left the golf course today."