The second stroke bounced slightly past the heart-shaped green of the 18th hole.
Buttressed by water to the left and a bunker on the right, a dense crowd gathered on a slope by the green. The anxious group watched the final foursomes of boys play the final hole Friday afternoon in the 2013 Class 3A UIL state golf tournament at Jimmy Clay Golf Course in Austin.
A third shot landed senior Dylan Rottner a few feet from the pin, and a par putt followed. His round-two score of 76 was a 10-stroke improvement over the first day, and the lowest one-day score by a Decatur player in the tournament.
Moments later, teammates Jansen Alker, a senior, and freshman Drew Jones sank their final shots. They led the team in the first round with scores of 81 and 77, respectively. The pair shot 88 and 81 on day two. Seniors Eric Gage and Dylan Erwin turned in second-round scores of 84 and 89, respectively, after they each shot 88 on the first day.
The team’s efforts landed them fifth in the state tournament with a two-day total of 662 – six shots shy of a third-place medal.
Big Spring and Fredericksburg tied for third with 656. Andrews captured another state title with 631, a single stroke ahead of second-place Argyle.
“Finishing fifth in the state of Texas is quite an accomplishment for them,” said coach Kyle Story. “I thought they played really well. They got out here and competed.
“Able to finish fifth here is a big deal. Andrews has been a perennially tough team in 4A, and they dropped down to 3A a few years ago. Argyle was second by one stroke, and they won our region. Fredericksburg and Big Spring are both good teams that tied for third. It’s a really good field and I’m proud of where they finished up.”
“We all played to the best of our abilities, and we all played good,” Gage said. “But we could have always played better.”
“There are a lot of good teams out here,” Jones said. “We didn’t play quite as good as we could have. We weren’t used to the greens. They were a little more bumpy and had more sand than we thought. But everybody had to play it.”
Jones and Alker were bright spots on the first day of a tournament that started under harsh conditions.
Thursday the sky stayed overcast, with winds gusting 35 to 40 miles per hour. With a low of 42 it turned out to be the coldest May 2 in Austin since temperatures have been recorded.
“The weather has been real rough,” Gage said. “We’ve played in a couple tournaments where the weather has been like this but not two days in a row. Whenever you’re hitting the golf ball around in the wind, the wind really takes a toll on it. It’s hard because the wind pushes the ball around so much.”
But through nine holes on round one, Jones and Alker were at one-under and even, respectively. The team as a whole was tied with Andrews for first place at the time, with Jones and Alker more than holding their own among the state’s best golfers. But the weather wore the team down as the dreary day dragged on, costing them several strokes. They finished day one in fourth with a score of 333 – three strokes shy of fourth-place Longview Spring Hill.
Jones heated up early in round two with an eagle on hole seven. On a long, uphill, par five, his second shot, following a long drive, landed right of the green on a steep hill. A precision chip dropped into the hole, putting him at par as he approached the turn. Some tough double bogeys on the back nine ballooned his score to a plus-nine for the day, but his two-day score of 158 still landed him at ninth overall.
Rottner’s 163 placed him just outside the top 20, tied at 22nd.
“Day one I let the emotions get the best of me,” he said. “Day two I just zoned in and started playing golf and not worrying about scores, just playing shot to shot.
“It was 40 degrees and blowing 50 miles per hour. That’s hard to play in. The greens were in terrible condition, too.
“It got warmer and that helped because I hate playing in the cold.”
“Very windy,” said Story of the playing conditions. “It’s been brutal. Very tough. But the thing about it is everybody has to play in the same conditions. I was really proud of the team.
“Different guys played good on different days. If they’d all shot their lowest scores on both days, they’d have been in very good shape.”
With four seniors on the team, the trip to state was a goal they’d been working toward throughout high school.
“I’m so happy I got to spend my last year on a team like this,” Gage said. “It has been the best year of school in my life, and I’m definitely glad to end it like this.”
“It was great making it here with all the seniors – glad to see them get to go to state their last year,” Jones said. “It feels good we got this chance to try to win state. That’s quite an accomplishment. It’s kind of sad they are all leaving, but it had to happen at some point.”
On the 18th hole, under a clear sky and blustering winds, surrounded by friends, family, fans, teammates and competitors, each Decatur High golfer finished the final round of his high school career to a chorus of cheers. One at a time, each dimpled ball vanished into the final hole they would play together as a team.
“It was a good ending – making it to state.” Gage said.