By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
GENESEO, Ill. —
When Three Rivers Conference medalist Kyle Workman and fellow state qualifier Evan Eissens graduated last spring, the returning players on the Fulton boys golf team knew there was no one to carry them this fall.
Depth kept the Steamers strong this season, and it made the difference Tuesday at the conference tournament.
Fulton put up four scores of 85 or better and edged Morrison 332-333 for first place in the meet at Maple Bluff Golf Club.
"I'm stoked; even if it's one stroke, it's a win," said senior Gunner Decker, who led Fulton with a 78, claiming runner-up medalist honors on a cardback over Griffin Kozeal of Amboy.
The win also determined the season-long conference points title, with Fulton garnering 30 points, to 28.5 for Morrison.
"Before the season started, we knew that without Kyle and Evan, we would all have to kind of count on each other. I would almost say our strength as a team is bonding," Fulton's Logan Rascher said.
"All year we had people step up," said Kyle Wiebenga, Fulton's No. 1 player. "I can count at least one person (in the lineup) who stepped up and shot low when we needed it most."
Tuesday, Rascher and Lucas Wiebenga filled the bill, each shooting an 85.
"Lucas and Logan both shot better than average," Kyle Wiebenga said. "Those two, and Gunner, were the difference."
Rascher, Fulton's No. 4 player, averages 88-90 strokes for an 18-hole round, while Lucas Wiebenga, the No. 6 player, averages about a 92.
"It means a lot to be able to contribute," Lucas Wiebenga said.
First-year Fulton coach Mark Speir said he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“We knew going in it would be a close battle with Morrison,” he said.
Morrison's Reid Hoffman, the meet runner-up in 2011, won medalist honors with a 1-over-par 73. For him, though, a sensational round turned into disappointment on the final hole. He considered his quadruple-bogey 8 on the hole as the difference in the team title.
"(It hurts more) quite a bit," he said after the team scores were posted. "I'm not a happy person right now. To have them beat us by one stroke kind of hurts."
He took little solace in the fact he shot 5 strokes better than anyone else.
"I do, though (put it on himself)," he said. "I realize the team relies on me a lot."
On the strength of five birdies, Hoffman teed off on No. 18 at 3 under par. But his drive found a side hill and bounced out of bounds, requiring a second drive. His next shot from the fairway sailed over the green. He chipped on, then three-putted.
"Without the out-of-bounds ball, they would have beaten us," Decker said.
"He got a bad bounce off the hill," said Kyle Wiebenga, who was playing in a threesome with Hoffman and Kewanee's Dylan Galloway. "He played a spectacular round except for two bad shots. I really feel for him."
For Hoffman, the hole was a nightmare revisited from a tournament 10 days earlier at Maple Bluff.
"I was 2 under going to 18 and took a double," said Hoffman, whose 72 that day gave him a second-place finish. "That hole is my nemesis. I can't seem to hit the ball down the fairway. There's just something about it; it gets me every time. It's not that hard of a hole by any means."
Except for 18, Hoffman played almost flawlessly on the sunny, 80-degree day. He shot 36 on the front nine and 37 on the back.
"The front nine was a little shaky, but finally on the back I got my putter going and had birdie after birdie," he said.
Hoffman finished the day with five birdies — on the par-4 fifth hole, the par-5 ninth, the par-3 12th, the par-4 15th and the par-5 16th.
"The one on nine was a great hole for me," he said. "I had a nice layup and a great wedge to the green to about 5 feet. That probably was the turning point of my round."
Until it turned ugly for him on No. 18.
Morrison's other scorers — Sam Ottens with an 86 and Colton Smith and Ben Tegeler with 87s — were solid, too, but just not quite as good as their Fulton counterparts.
"They've been on our tail all year," Decker said.
"All tournament, we knew every stroke would matter," Lucas Wiebenga said.
“With six holes to play we probably weren’t winning,” Speir said. “It was the way we finished that made the difference.”
Both Lucas Wiebenga and Rascher had strong closing holes, which they said were crucial.
"I kind of wanted to give up because I had just doubled before, but I parred the hole from 25-30 feet," Wiebenga, who finished on No. 2, said.
"On the last hole (No. 1), I got on the green knowing I really needed a par," Rascher said. "I tried really hard to par and got it." He missed a 12-foot birdie putt but stuck in a 5-footer for par.
Kyle Wiebenga and Decker also had difference-making holes they could point to.
"Probably my best hole was No. 7, a par 3," Wiebenga said. "I put an 8-iron in the sand trap behind the green — and not just in the sand but in a shoe print where someone didn't rake — and I got up and down."
Decker said back-to-back pars on Nos. 10 and 11 stuck out to him.
"Ten is a hole where I had taken two eights (in earlier meets this year), and I came in for a birdie putt and missed but made par. It was a relief par. Then I parred 11, the hardest hole."
Pars were nothing unusual for Decker, though. He finished with 13 of them.
"My putting was good," he said. "My irons weren't too strong, but I hit my drives down the middle, and it helps when your driver is on."
And with such a close battle, the Steamers needed all the help they could get.
THREE RIVERS CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
Maple Bluff Golf Club, par 72
1. Fulton 332; 2. Morrison 333; 3. Kewanee 341; 4. Amboy 344; 5. Sterling Newman 363; 6. Erie 371; 7. Riverdale 372; 8. Bureau Valley 385; 9. Prophetstown 403.
1. Reid Hoffman (M) 36-37—73; 2. Gunner Decker (F) 39-39—78; 3. Griffin Kozeal (A) 39-39—78; 4. Dylan Galloway (K) 42-40—82; 5. Todd Nelson (SN) 40-43—83; 6. Kyle Wiebenga (F) 40-44—84; 7. (tie) Logan Rascher (F) 42-43—85, Lucas Wiebenga (F) 43-42—85, Ryan Young (BV) 44-41—85; 10. (tie) Ryan Hansen (K) 44-42—86, Colton Philhower (K) 45-41—86, Josh Gross (A) 42-44—86, Sam Ottens (M) 44-42—86.
FULTON — Decker 78, K. Wiebenga 84, Rascher 85, L. Wiebenga 85, Matt Dail 92, Brett Terrock 92.
MORRISON — Hoffman 73, Ottens 86, Colton Smith 87, Ben Tegeler 87, Brock Smith 90, Greg Magana 92.
ERIE — Koby Kuhnen 89, Alex Garrison 91, Brandon Heppner 95, Levi Floming 96, Tanner Brockway 105, Brandon Saltizahn 107.
PROPHETSTOWN — Carter Ames 94, Jake Plautz 101, Zach Maronde 102, Austin Snyder 106, Rivor Gage 113, Jerid Coffin 118.
1. Morrison 350; 2. Fulton 369; 3. Riverdale 373; 4. Kewanee 375; 5. (tie) Erie, Sterling Newman 394; 7. Bureau Valley 422; 8. Amboy 428; 9. Prophetstown 438.
Medalist — Noah Hogue (M) 80.