The old line about senior leadership fits in high school athletics when it comes to football and basketball. In the crunch, players – and their coaches – look to someone who has the experience to come through.
Golf is different. Golf is a numbers game bereft of defense. Course management can be learned at an early age, and, paired with a smooth swing and a silky putting touch, it matters not how young or old a player is. Only the score matters.
Two of the area’s best are a sophomore and a junior. The former, Matt Zandstra, is the leader of Illiana Christian, having learned the way from his brother Jon, who is entering his freshman year at Trinity Christian College. The latter, Michael Barber, is a junior at Beecher.
Like Zandstra, Barber is the pace setter for the Bobcats.
Barber has led Beecher to two straight Class 1A regional titles, plus last year’s River Valley Conference crown. He also won the individual regional titles both as a freshman and as a sophomore. Last year, he made it to the 1A finals, which were shortened to one round by inclement weather. Barber scored 83, which put him in the middle of the pack at Prairie Vista Golf Club in Bloomington, where he was stranded when the final round was cancelled. That gives him a goal for this season.
Winning the state championship isn’t completely out of his mind.
“It would mean a lot,” Barber said. “It would be special.”
And he already has the game plan.
“Hit good irons (on approach) and good wedges to give yourself shorter putts,” Barber said. “Hit the ball straight. Just play your game, and people will notice you. Just shoot your number.”
Barber, who counts his coach, David Serafin, as his teacher – aided by Bill Abrams of Balmoral Woods, “If I’m having big problems.”
Those have been few and far between. He was in the 70s for much of the summer, scored under par at Cardinal Creek, the course in Beecher, and says he’s improved five shots since last fall, on top of a six- stroke improvement from his freshman to sophomore years.
The rest of the Bobcats score in the 90s and above, but Barber has given them advice that can apply to a golfer of any caliber.
"I try to teach them to make smart shots,” Barber said. “Make their bogey and avoid the doubles, triples and others.”
In contrast to Barber, Zandstra has yet to go out of the family for a lesson. His father gives him pointers. So far, that’s worked for both him and his brother.
Now, he’s thrust into the role of a team leader, for he and junior Steven Massey figure to be the top Vikings all season long.
“It’s a challenge,” Zandstra said. “I feel like I’m ready to keep the team going, post some good scores and help the team win.”
Like Barber, Zandstra is improving, and eager to accelerate the process.
“I want to really want to try to take it to the next level,” Zandstra said. “I’m probably three or four strokes better (than last year) over
18 holes. I’ve learned to grind out a round. It’s easier for me to keep the wheels on now. An 84 now could have been an 88.”
Zandstra said playing on the same team with his brother provided valuable moments.
“I got to watch how he maintained his composure out there,” Zandstra said. “He was never too high on his good shots or too low on his bad shots. I’d get mad inside, not try to show much.”
Zandstra sees potential in this year’s edition of the Vikings, even though five regulars, including his brother, graduated from last year’s 2A state qualifying team.
“As a team, we can shoot well,” he said, adding that consistency is the question mark.
As in Barber mentoring his fellow Beecher players, that’s when Zandstra’s leadership will be needed the most.