Once junior Jonathan Willenborg walked off the 18th green and found out that his team advanced to the state tournament, he sighed and broke out a smile.
St. Anthony’s season wasn’t over. The Bulldogs had just advanced to the Class 1A State Tournament after carding a 321 for second place behind Oblong, who fired a 320.
“It was a great feeling,” said Willenborg after hearing that his team was advancing to the state tournament. “I checked the leaderboard early and saw that we got off to a slow start, and I was starting to get worried. You would hate to see a team like this not make it out of the sectional.”
Even with a strong finish, the start was one that St. Anthony would gladly like to have over.
Doubt crept in at points during the front nine, with not much going right for the Bulldogs, who had the luxury of playing the course twice within two weeks.
“We played last week, and it was in better shape. Then, we came back and played again on Saturday, and we played in the rain,” Bulldogs head coach Phil Zaccari said. “I don’t know if it was nerves and things like that to get started. We weren’t making putts. It wasn’t that we were hitting the ball badly; we were hitting the ball pretty well. It was trying to find the consistency on the green.”
All of a sudden, state championship aspirations were slowly becoming dreams.
With their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs needed to turn their fortunes around and did it with only nine holes left.
“We survived the front, and we put a good charge on the back,” Zaccari said. “We started making pars, and then we dropped a couple of birdies. Thomas had it going, but we couldn’t quite finish where we wanted with the last few holes, but we’re 1st-and-10 and moving on.”
Willenborg led the way for St. Anthony with a five-over-par 76.
He shot four-over-par on the front and one-over-par on the back, with a birdie on No. 16.
“On the first hole, I missed a short putt for birdie, and that kind of lost my confidence in the putter,” Willenborg said. “But I was able to strike it well enough and not make any double bogeys, which led me to keep fighting until the back nine when I finally got some putts to drop.”
Senior Thomas Chojnicki shot a nine-over-par 80.
He shot a seven-over-par 42 on the front and was four shots better on the back, carding a 38, including starting his back nine by birding three of his first four holes.
Freshman Joey Trupiano shot a 10-over-par 81 with a birdie on No. 17, and sophomore Lane Ludwig shot a 13-over-par 84 for the decisive fourth score that advanced his team to state.
Yet, after a front nine which saw him shoot a 47, it didn’t look like Ludwig would be much of a factor toward the score. However, he rebounded well, carding a one-over-par 37 on the back, with a birdie on No. 17
“My putting was a lot better. I finally found the speed,” said Ludwig on what changed from the front nine to the back nine. “My driver was straight, and I hit a lot more fairways than on the front.”
Now, the Bulldogs aim for their fifth state championship, and first since 2018.
Class 1A State starts Friday at Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington and concludes on Saturday.
Individually, Altamont’s Tyler Stonecipher and Kevin Hall also advanced after carding rounds of five-over-par 77.