SANDWICH — Connor Baker couldn't have scripted the start of his 2019 golf season much better.
The senior from Serena High School and unquestionable leader of the Newark-Serena links cooperative produced a performance to remember, winning the individual championship of the annual Sandwich Indian Golf Invitational on Thursday afternoon here at Edgebrook Golf Course.
Baker combined incredible longball striking off the tee, pinpoint accuracy in iron play around the greens and consistent putting to ultimately capture a thrilling triumph over Aurora Central Catholic's Nathan Turco with a birdie on the first hole of sudden death, this after finishing in a three-way tie for eighth place last season as a junior.
"After last year, I just felt if I could get a top-five score I'd be happy," Baker said. "But to go out there and win it in a playoff was pretty special, and something I'll never forget."
Baker took command of the extra session by blasting a monster drive a bit left of the par-4, 320-yard first hole. He outdrove Turco by at least 50 yards. Turco then hit a mid-iron to within 10 feet of the hole to put the pressure on Baker, but the New-Ser standout knocked a second shot wedge stiff to just three feet from the cup.
After Turco missed his birdie attempt, Baker drained the title try, earning the championship plaque.
"Honestly, at first I didn't think that putt had enough on it, and I thought I might have left it short," Baker said. "But it went in, and to start my senior year this way is amazing."
All in all, Baker tied Turco with 32 points before the playoff by registering two birdies, eight pars and eight bogeys 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 which would have seen him fire an also-impressive 6-over 78 on the day, to the joy of his father and New-Ser head golf coach Chad Baker.
"I'm very proud, and to see that putt go in sudden death was very exciting," Coach Baker said. "As a father, it was a great moment for me to experience here with him, and I know this summer he's worked very hard on his game. He hit the ball so well off the tee, and with his irons today if he could've made a few more putts he could've won the championship without the extra hole.
"But he's matured so much over the last season, and you could certainly see it today winning the championship and leading our team to a very strong finish."
The Norsemen finished fifth out of the 16-team field, registering 74 points, well behind eventual champion Aurora Central Catholic (120). Connor Baker's senior teammates Porter Arneson (17) and Tanner Kunkel (15) also contributed strongly in the New-Ser mix.
Seneca bettered the Norsemen on the team scorecard, earning fourth-place status with 83 tallies as senior medallist Brett Yegge led the way, tied for seventh individually carding 24 markers along with Holden Flynn (16), A.J. Stiegler (14) and Alex Stiegler (14).
"I played pretty well off the start, but toward the end I kind of fell off my game," Yegge said. "But overall, I went 12 and 12 on each of my nine holes, and I think it was a pretty good beginning to my season."
Somonauk-Leland (61) was right behind New-Ser, placing sixth as a group with senior Charlie Vermeland earning a ninth-place medal after scoring 23 points. Junior Ryan Johnson provided 12 tallies.
"I played some smart golf today, and I've improved a lot since I first played here my freshman year," Vermeland said. "It's pretty cool to come out here as a senior, play well and get a medal."
Tournament host Sandwich (43) placed 11th as a team, with Aiden Sullivan pacing the home squad with 13 points. Ryan Pruski added 10 for the Indians.
"It was another great event to start the year, and I don't think we've ever had a playoff for the individual championship in this event like we had today," said Sandwich coach and event coordinator Mike Butler. "Credit to the Baker kid from Newark-Serena for winning the individual title in exciting fashion, and I'm proud of my guys for competing well also.
"This was just a great start to the high school sports season."