OREGON, Ill. – Andrew Schrader sat around a table with his fellow members of the Fulton High School golf team following a turbulent 18-hole round at the Class 1A Sectional at Silver Creek Golf Course Monday afternoon.
On the surface, he was at ease, smiling and trading war stories with his friends revolving around their respective adventures throughout five-hour rounds on a rain-stricken golf course in the most important meet of the season.
Then an hour passed. And another. It was now 5 p.m., and the fate of teams and individuals with state tournament aspirations were not yet officially decided. Schrader teed off nearly eight hours earlier in the day, hitting his first shot of the day at approximately 9:45 a.m.
Fast forward another 30 minutes, and the area of the clubhouse at Silver Creek reserved for participants, spectators and scoring officials was beginning to gain some steam, as golfers (and more importantly, their scores) began to file through the door.
But as more people entered, the quieter the room became.
The back wall of the room carried posters of each team, and a tournament official documented results in permanent marker soon after the scorecards were signed by players, triggering a cyclical routine of interested persons walking to the wall, craning their necks, squinting their eyes and returning to their seats – just to repeat this sequence five minutes later.
By that point, the fate for the Fulton High School golf team was imminent. Despite an impressive season and solid performance Monday afternoon, the Steamers were not going to advance to the state tournament as a unit.
But there was still hope for Schrader, who rebounded from a shaky front-9 to shoot a red-hot 37 on the back to salvage 78 and keep hopes of booking a trip to Bloomington as an individual competitor for the second consecutive season alive.
"It is definitely intense [waiting for the scores to come in]," Schrader said. "It is definitely really tense and quiet in there because people are really stressed about it... it is a big deal."
Turns out, there was no need to stress at all.
Schrader finished third overall among individuals not rostered on a qualifying team and fifth in the entire field. The junior even left room to spare, as the top-10 individuals advance to the state competition, a two-day event that begins Friday at Prairie Vista Golf Course in Bloomington.
He also advanced last season as a sophomore but struggled to find his way on the grand stage, shooting 80-83 (163) to land in 25th place. A more than modest finish, sure, but Schrader has his sights set higher this time around.
"I'm really glad I made it last year because that experience gave me some insight," Schrader said. "I know what to do differently this year and I expect to shoot better and finish higher, that is for sure."
Fulton coach Kevin Ver Hoeven is pleased with his team leader, highlighting the significance of clinching two state berths before his senior season.
"He deserves it and works so hard," Ver Hoeven said. "He is so driven and not only expects to make it to state, but to finish near the top. A lot of kids never even get to go once so it is just very cool."
Schrader has hovered around a 37-stroke average in 9-hole rounds this season, with his best score coming in at 35. He understands the mental component of his game is paramount, which he demonstrated on the final hole Monday afternoon.
On a par-3 that utilized a condensed putting surface on the driving range as a replacement to a flooded 14th hole, Schrader hit an iron shot well short of the green, as his club sent a chunk of grass flying and fell victim to a strong gust of crosswind.
After walking down the "fairway," the junior calmly chipped within 12 feet and sunk the tricky par putt to end the outing on a high note.
"You just have to take it one shot at a time," Schrader said. "Even if you do something bad on a hole, you have to forget about it and move on... you just have to try and grind it out and make your pars if nothing else is going."
OK, well maybe not too calm.
"If I told you I wasn't nervous I would be lying," Schrader said. "But 18 holes is a long time and you just have to stick with it."