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West De Pere boys golf sees success at State

By Tori Wittenbrock

Sports Reporter

The West De Pere boys golf team proudly hold their conference award plaques after the 2023 season. Pictured left to right are Mason Haupt, Darrien Thomas, Ethan Heck, Cody Gevers and Isaac Sinkula.

DE PERE- On June 5-6, the West De Pere boys golf team competed at State for Division I and performed well enough to take 3rd place, a new school best.

It has been a bit of an uphill battle for the team this year. After not even being projected to qualify for State this year and having a few disappointing results early on in the season, the team fought their way to the top.

“For our team, we ran into so many instances early in the season where we would lose by a shot or two (or even tie), and after you get done you think ‘man, if I wouldn’t have hit my first putt by the hole 4 and had a downhill, outside-the-hole come-backer that I missed, we could have won’. Once the guys were able to see that every shot counts at this level, I think you could feel their games starting to be managed differently. At Blackwolf Run last week, this wasn’t going to be any different,” said first year coach, Derek Wathke.

Aside from the physical difficulties of performing, the team also surmounted a great deal of mental and psychological challenges as well.

“Like any other sport, the players that are mentally tough are the players typically succeeding the most,” said Wathke.

“Big numbers were going to happen for everyone at some point. If I saw one of our players following a bad hole or a bad shot, I would always say ‘you have 30 more seconds to be mad about that last hole. After that, it’s time to flush it and start focusing on the next hole or next shot’. I think that is what we did really well last week, in being able to forget the bad stuff and focus on the next shot or hole ahead.”

After being in the middle of the pack on Day 1, ending the day on a three way tie for 7th place, the boys team managed to climb back up to the top of the board.

They were the only team at the tournament to count three scores in the 70s, moving up four spots to finish third overall.

“I knew early on during our off-season practices that we had the talent to be pretty good. And after seeing who we had coming back after two fairly strong seasons, I knew that Mason was always going to be a guy that we could count on having a good score, even if he didn’t have his ‘A’ game that day, and Darrien and Ethan would be consistent performers for us as well,” said Wathke.

“Early on this spring, the weather didn’t do us any favors and we didn’t have much time for them to practice and work on their games. It took some time to play around with different groups to be able to settle on the group of five that we ended the season with.”

The Phantoms worked hard all season to prove their rightful spot at the tournament, even winning their sectional over Kimberly by 11 strokes.

Wahtke said that it didn’t take long for him to be able to tell that the team had a great deal of talent and a fantastic work ethic.

“After we were co-champions with Notre Dame at Royal St. Patrick’s in the Ashwaubenon Invitational with a pretty good score of 308 I knew we had a group that could really compete and put up a pretty good number. Just because I knew we were good enough to be a state-caliber team didn’t mean that we were going to qualify for State.”

“As the season went on, I started to ask the guys to look at how to play holes a little differently in practice and in events and you could see their course management improve. Going into State last week, I knew that Sheboygan North and Eau Claire Memorial were going to be tough to beat, but I knew we could hang with any other team in our division. Being only seven shots out of third place going into the second round, we could sneak into that spot if we limited mistakes.”

The team’s last appearance at State was 2021, when they finished 11th. Since then, the team has 3 new players on their roster, making for an unpredictable 2023 season, to which the team decidedly rose to the occasion.

“The conditions for round two were going to be more difficult with the wind expected to pick up and you could see early on that everyone was going to struggle. After a shaky start, we told the guys to keep both hands on the wheel and grind it out. They responded and shot 148 over our last 9 holes and that was enough to move us up into a tie for 3rd place with Waukesha North,” said Wahtke.

“After it was over and you started to look at the different programs that you had beaten, and that this finish at State was a new high-water mark for our program… it was pretty special. All of the guys played such a big part at each level of the tournament. I’m really proud of how they competed all season, and proud of how they represented West De Pere last week at State.”

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