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Goals set high for Peru boys' golf

AMPING UP: Peru rode the wave of four underclassmen to a TRC boys’ golf title and a runner-up finish at the Peru Sectional in 2018 along with a 10-2 mark in dual matches and runner-up finishes at the Twin Lakes and Northfield Invitationals. Sophomore Kash Bellar (Pictured) earned medalist honors several times last season, including at the sectional, and is poised to help the Tigers look for a berth in the IHSAA Boys’ Golf State Finals in 2019.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

A young Peru boys’ golf team made waves throughout the 2018 season, winning the TRC Match, finishing as runner-up in the Peru Sectional and 11th at the Warsaw Regional.

With four of the five members of the postseason squad returning, along with two seniors with varsity experience, the Tigers are aiming to one up the previous year during the 2019 campaign.

Peru golf head coach Clint Mathews said despite limited time on the course so far this year, the squad was already showing they meant business this season.

“We look very good right now,” Mathews said. “We have no complaints about the squad.

“We looked at a lot of the stats from last year, which we have from every match and from every guy, and know that our weaknesses last year revolved around penalties and missed short putts, which is our focus this year. We want to hit more greens in regulations, be tidier with our putts as there were too many three-putts because of misses within five feet and work on our decision-making to avoid penalties.

“You can’t get away from the occasional poor swing but the guys can plan ahead, choose the right lines, the right clubs and eliminate some of those mistakes,” Mathews added. “If we do those things, we can turn some of our double and triple bogeys into pars and bogey, which turns a round from the 90s into the low-to-mid 80s.”

The core four returning from 2018 includes senior T. Fred Eddy, junior TRC medalist Corbin Robison, sophomore sectional medalist Kash Bellar and sophomore Jake Van Baalen.

Seniors Andrew Overton and Matt Kiefer add additional varsity experience to the squad with Mathews pointing to the group as the six players vying to complete the varsity roster.

“Kash and Corbin are going to continue to play great golf at a high level,” Mathews noted. “We’re excited about Jake’s game as he has the talent to break into the 80s on a regular basis and we’re hoping to see that from him.

“T. Fred has really taken on a leadership role and we’re impressed with his dedication, only missing a single workout during the winter. He’s been setting an example to the younger guys of what things are supposed to look like.

“Andrew and Matt both worked hard over the offseason and all these guys are another year more mature on the course, which is going to pay dividends for scores this year,” Mathews added. “Some of these guys are starting to know when to put the driver away, avoid certain parts of the course that make big numbers and the more they continue to tidy those things up, the sky’s the limit for these guys.

“We know they can make pars and birdies; what we’re seeing from them is learning how to avoid the big numbers.”

Two other golfers return form the 2018 squad in senior Eli Burks and junior Gabe Baker, the latter of whom was a player Mathews said was one to keep an eye on this season.

“Eli was already improving a ton last year as he was brand new to the team,” Mathews said. “He’s picked up right where he left off from last year and we’re excited for his growth.

“Gabe is another player that could be a factor in the lineup this year and definitely for next year. It’s important for him to keep working on his game as we know we have a lot of seniors this year and he’s going to be a big part of filling those spots next year.”

Peru welcomes in two new faces in exchange student David Li and junior Jaymz Mummert, both of whom Mathews said would be picking up the game as the year went on.

“David is a foreign-exchange student while Jaymz is new to the game,” Mathews said. “For these guys, it is more of a learning experience but it’s good to introduce kids to the game.

“Golf is a lifetime sport and even if they’re not necessarily competing a lot at the high school level, they can keep playing for years to come.”

With weather being a nuisance in the first two weeks of the season, Mathews said the squad was given plenty of time to study the new rules, many focused on speeding matches up.

“We had an hour-and-a-half long team meeting on the rules as the emphasis this year is on pace of play,” Mathews pointed out. “Every golfer in the state has to go through pace of play training along with the new rules such as dropping the ball from knee height instead of shoulder height or keeping the pin in while putting.

“There are a couple of guys that want to put with the flag in and for others, it’s still an awkward thing. It will take some time to adjust and there will be times where the kids need help but, in the long run, the new rules are for the best.”

The biggest change Peru will be looking at comes not from the rule book but during the IHSAA tournament as the regional round will now be held at Swan Lake Resort in Plymouth due to the closure of Stonehenge this spring, a place Mathews said might give the Tigers and advantage they wouldn’t otherwise have at the Warsaw course.

“The Black Course at Swan Lake is one I’m unfamiliar with though we’ve had some guys be competitive on it,” Mathews said. “Coach (JJ) Burns and I are taking a scouting trip over there to see it for the first time.

“From what I’ve seen online and heard, it is a big course that, depending on pins, can stretch out over 7000 yards and uses lots of drivers, which can be advantageous for our guys as we have several guys that can hit good drives. We have to get through the sectional first but the guys have big goals for the regional.”

Peru finished 2018 with a 10-2 dual mark and a TRC title, a season Mathews said would normally be a very good one for any team but added the current Tiger squad had bigger and better goals in mind for 2019.

“We want to defend our TRC title and win the sectional this time after missing out by a few strokes to Western last year,” Mathews said. “The guys want to get one of those top-three spots at the regional to advance to the state finals, which is a big goal and these guys are going to have to work hard to attain it.

“The guys have also talked about finishing with an undefeated record in dual matches and to get an invite win. It’s great to come in second a few times but it also hurts to come that close.

“We got a trophy last year but the guys felt they underachieved a little bit,” Mathews added. “They were successful in a lot of ways last year but know they can achieve more and bring home more trophies this year.”