The Carl Junction Bulldogs return three golfers from last season, including two of their state qualifiers last season and their third returning golfer qualified his freshman season.
“We have plenty of talent coming back, and that talent had a really good offseason,” Carl Junction coach Ryan Jones said. “Our goals are generally always the same. To keep getting better as the year progresses and then add up all of our shots and see if it was good enough. We think this golf team has the talent to be in the mix for individual and team success.”
The returning golfers are sophomore Jack Spencer, senior Jacob Teeter and junior Tommy Walker. Spencer and Teeter both qualified for state last season and Walker did two seasons ago and narrowly missed the cut last season.
“Our returning starters all have state tournament experience,” Jones said. “We should be able to have success with our top three golfers. They are really talented. Those three are clearly a strong point for Carl Junction golf. They practice the right way. They compete the right way. I can’t ask for a better group to lead the program.
“Their work ethic has changed the way kids in the program practice. We routinely have three-hour practices or longer because those kids simply don’t want to leave the course. Those three lead by example. Golf is pretty simple when it comes to success. You just have to put in the time. Those kids have shown what is required to have success to the younger kids.”
Spencer, who averaged 74 strokes his freshman season, finished seventh in Class 4 with a 152 (76-76) he carded at the Meadow Lake Acres Country Club in New Bloomfield. He finished eighth in the Central Ozark Conference and 10th at district.
Spencer also won the Carthage Invitational in a playoff against Carthage’s Max Templeman and Republic’s Cason Bekemeier after they finished their 18 holes tied at even-par 71.
“It was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time,” Jones said at the time. “Hole No. 10 is a par-5. All three kids hit their shot onto the fairway. Jack stuck an iron from about 200 out to five feet. Jack had an eagle putt from five feet that he barely missed and then he tapped in for birdie to win it. …
“He puts a lot of expectations on himself. He’s a great golfer with a great golfing disposition. He’s certainly got the talent and he’s off to a good start to his high school career. I’m sure he’s on cloud nine right now. But I know he has bigger goals moving forward.”
Teeter finished 51st at state with a 168 (85-83) and 19th at district.
Walker missed state by three strokes last season.
The Bulldogs have a pair of seniors in Zach Merwin and Jayden Wingo and a pair of freshmen in Logan Lowry and Austin Baker in the mix for the other two varsity spots.
“From a program standpoint, I think Logan Lowry has had a great start to the season,” Jones said. “He is a kid that decided late to play golf and is naturally talented at the game. We are really excited about his chances to be a factor even as soon as this season. Austin Baker is a really talented kid that has the potential to shoot really solid numbers.
“Zach Merwin has been in our program the past three years and continues to develop his golf game, and I think he is going to have a solid season. And Jayden Wingo is also a senior that has been in the program his entire high school career and was a valuable member of our JV squad last year. He will look to be in the mix for a varsity spot as well.”
Carl Junction finished third at districts and fifth in the conference last season.
“In golf you have a couple different ways to measure success,” Jones said. “As team we will need to develop four solid scores. We have the talent to do so, but some of those new golfers are an unknown quantity. The two remaining spots, while talented, haven’t been through the fire. How successful we are as a team will likely depend on how our back half of the roster continues to develop. If they can hold up, we will be difficult to deal with.
“Spring golf is hard, man. It is cold, it is windy, there isn’t much grass growing. How we navigate those conditions will determine if our team has success.
“The other way to measure success is individual performance. Coach speak would say to just keep getting better. So, I will echo that line, but I will also say we have some golfers in our program with lofty goals. And they have the work ethic to achieve those goals. We shall see.”
The Bulldogs start their season March 27 and their schedule includes the Joplin Invitational at Twin Hills (April 6), the Papa John’s Cup at Briarbrook (April 7), the Horton Smith at Schifferdecker (April 10), the Ozark Invitational (April 13), the Carthage Invitational (April 17), the Pittsburg (Kan.) Invitational at Crestwood (April 18), and the Bird Dog Invitational at Briarbrook (April 24) before conference, district, and possibly state competition.
“Our returning golfers played a ton of competitive rounds in the offseason,” Jones said. “Summer is where good golfers are made, and we had plenty of kids in our program playing in tournaments and spending time at the club. The numbers we are shooting in the fall and in the early portion of our season are promising, but things change when the lights come on and you have to go perform under pressure. I like where we are at as a team, but every day is a new day that we have to prove we belong on the big stage.”