The Pursuit of Perfection

This is an essay I wrote last year about my State Golf Tournament experience with a team I’ll never forget.

The Pursuit of Perfection
By Jordan Bates

An Iowa State Golf tournament is a remarkably overwhelming stage. The nerves and pressure that come with competition seem to be amplified tenfold in this exclusive arena. A surplus of ingredients combines to generate an atmosphere of the utmost intensity. When I stepped up to the first tee, the announcer bellowed, “Jordan Bates! Spencer!” As I grabbed my driver and paced to the designated teeing ground, I tried to look and feel composed, despite the noticeable trembling of my hands. As I gazed at the fairway stretched in front of me, I attempted to envision the ideal shot. When I began to take the club back, it felt as though it were made of cast iron. I managed to muster enough power to complete the swing and hit the ball. I heaved a sigh of relief and began my march down the fairway, already wondering what the day would bring and how my other teammates were faring.

That first day seemed to slip by in a blur. My first nine holes were atrocious, capped by a disgusting ten on the par five, eighteenth hole. After completing my worst nine hole round of the season, my morale had sunken deeper than the Mariana Trench. Luckily, my nerves had evaporated because I assumed my score would not be a factor after such a poor start. I focused on finding a comfort zone down the stretch to gain confidence for day two. My cool demeanor allowed me to play excellently. After playing my first eight holes of the back nine just five over, I capped my final nine with a solid par on the demanding ninth hole. As I drained my par putt on the last green to the resounding applause of my teammates, coaches, and parents, I was convinced that the day had not been a failure. My eighteen hole score on day one ended up being a 92, which was discarded. Thankfully, my teammates had played well, and our team’s score after day one put us in first place in the tournament standings. The celebration was euphoric. None of us could restrain from grinning and laughing as we feasted on burgers and pulled pork. It was as if we were knights celebrating an unprecedented conquest. We had won the battle, and the next day would decide the war. The State tournament victory seemed more attainable than ever. Needless to say, none of us got the best night’s sleep as we all mulled over the implications of the next day’s outcome. As I tossed and turned in my bed, I could not help but reflect on the extraordinary journey that had brought us to that point.

When the season began in March of 2009, the lineup was yet to be determined. A golf team is made up of six individuals, and we certainly had more than six qualified players vying for the spots. This competition for varsity proved to be the fiercest competition we faced for most of the season. The hard truth was that we had nine or ten guys capable of playing varsity, but four would end up on JV. This battle for the six spots made everyone practice with determination, and was unquestionably a reason for our team’s success. After many hard-fought qualifying rounds, a roster finally began to take shape. As expected, the team was lead by Jay Monahan. Jay was somewhat of a golf prodigy, being the son of the teaching pro at our home course. He was just a sophomore, but Jay carried himself with the poise and concentration of a seasoned veteran. He had tied for sixth individually at the State tournament the previous year, and was therefore recognized throughout the state as a formidable young player. Our number two spot was occupied by Craig Cunningham, a senior and four year varsity player. Craig’s experience playing varsity over the course of his high school career had elevated his game substantially. Craig was a consistent performer and also had the ability to fire low rounds, particularly the unbelievable 33 he forged on the front nine of the notorious Lake Creek Country Club. Craig had a natural confidence and carried himself with a swagger that undoubtedly intimidated more than a few opponents.

The third spot eventually fell to my cousin Mike Clark, another senior and four year varsity competitor. Mike’s consistency over the years had given him somewhat of a legacy of reliability. His heavyset appearance and one of a kind swing drew questioning stares from many opposing coaches. Mike’s knack for grinding out respectable scores garnered a lot of attention, and he went on to play college golf. The fourth spot was taken by another cousin of mine, Mike’s brother, Joe Clark. Joe was a junior and had played some varsity golf in years prior, but really hit his stride in 2009. Joe surprised everyone with his spectacular ability to scramble for pars after rarely finding the fairway on his drives. Joe’s style of play earned him the distinction of having the greatest up and down in Spencer Golf history. Joe was one of the more animated characters of the squad, easily recognized by his emerald green hat, flashy oversized sunglasses, and incomparable Superman belt buckle.

The fifth spot on the team was filled by Marc Regnier, another senior player and a good friend of mine. Because of various ineligibilities, Marc had been forced to sit on the sidelines throughout most of his high school golf career. After three years of waiting, Marc decided enough was enough his senior year and stepped up his game to the varsity level. Marc, too, had a very outspoken personality and seemed to have an unrelenting supply of borderline inappropriate comments. As a golfer, Marc was defined by his gift for hitting the long ball and his clutch putting. The last spot was secured by me, a fourth senior and three year varsity participant. I had discovered the game in sixth grade and practiced diligently for years. I was proud of how far my game had come since my first nine hole score of 136. I like to think that I, too, was one of the personalities of the team, or maybe everyone was just laughing to be polite. Regardless, I was known on the team for an overuse of my extensive vocabulary and for a series of improvised monologues that became a team tradition.

Our head coach was Steve Bomgaars. Bomgaars doubled as the Government teacher at our high school and was the heartthrob of the female population. His seemingly endless supply of sweater vests and slacks was a tribute to his style and charm. Essentially, Bomgaars was the man. Aside from his legendary status as a charismatic teacher, Bomgaars had decades of golf experience and could have pursued a career as a motivational speaker. His knowledge of the game and eloquence combined to make him the perfect coach. His quick fixes for any swing problem and moving pep talks took our team to another level in terms of resilience and talent. Not only was Bomgaars an outstanding coach and teacher, he was, and is, a great friend. He is truly impossible to dislike and was really just one of the guys. Our assistant coach was Bill Zinn. Although my senior year was the first year Bill had coached golf, he was an asset to the team from the get go. In addition to assisting Coach Bomgaars in any feasible way, Bill is one of the most cheerful and personable guys you will ever meet. If you happened to cross paths with him on the course, he would smile and shake your hand whether you were playing like Tiger Woods or on the verge of losing every ball in your bag.

It seemed that fate had brought the team together, and the upcoming season appeared to have limitless possibilities. Our team had gone to the State Tournament the year before and taken fifth. We had been naïve amateurs at the time. The grandeur and magnificence of the State golf course had seemed like a prize in itself, and we had been content to merely partake. This season, however, we knew what to expect. We knew we had to look past the splendor of the venue if we were to attain the ultimate prize. First, however, we had to get there.

The season opener was the first hurdle on the path to the State Tournament, and we leapt it in style. Trouncing our two opponents by 29 and 30 strokes respectively, we quickly established ourselves as the team to beat in the conference. After several more convincing victories, we had our first real challenge at the Carroll Country Club. The Carroll-Kuemper Invite was a tournament that no Spencer team had won in over a decade, primarily because so many capable teams always attended. Our main competitions were Kuemper and Ballard. Kuemper was a team that would go on to win the 2A State Championship in 2009. Ballard was the defending 3A State Champion and had not lost in two years. We were certainly viewed as the underdogs, but it was not in our nature to doubt ourselves. Our assurance was rewarded when our team fired an eighteen hole score of 304, besting Kuemper by four shots and Ballard by six. That victory was especially significant for two reasons. First, we realized we could hold our own against the best teams in the state. Second, we proved that Ballard was not invincible.

Shortly after winning the Kuemper Invite, we wrapped up the Conference with an undefeated record. The next item of business was the Lakes Conference Tournament. That day was meant to be ours. At the end of the day, I walked off my eighteenth hole with a smile on my face and my scorecard in hand. I had shot a 75, my best competitive round ever. My score put me in a tie for second with Joe, while Jay had run away with the individual medal with a two under par 70. After several playoffs had been completed to decide places, we had claimed the top four spots, as well as sixth and eighth, making our entire team worthy of All-Conference status. It may have been the most dominant performance the Lakes Conference Tournament had ever seen.

After the Lakes Conference season was all said and done, the Sectional was the next step towards a State Tournament birth. Although we were the obvious favorites to win our Sectional and advance to the District tournament, Coach Bomgaars never let us take anything for granted. He warned against the mindset, “All we have to do is show up to win.” We took his advice to heart, and played like we were just another team. Despite shooting our worst team score of the season, we still managed to take first place and move on to the District tournament. Going into the District, our resolve to win was an indestructible fortress. This was the final obstacle, and we refused to let anything penetrate our defenses. Our desire to win had nothing to do with individual aspirations. The team’s fate was always the priority. We conquered the District tournament in commanding fashion, and the stage was set for a repeat State Tournament appearance.

As I laid in bed on the eve of the final day of the state tournament, I could not help but smile while pondering the flawlessness of our season. I was proud to be a part of this team, and I fell asleep considering our impending triumph or downfall that would surely take place in the next twenty four hours.

Day one had been nerve-racking. Day two was time to bring it home. The tension was so overwhelming that we could have been playing in the Super Bowl. As the tee-times began to arrive, I watched Craig make a mess of his first hole and knew I had to rise to the occasion if we were to win. I started on the front nine, and the struggles began. After tripling my third hole, I forced myself to remain optimistic. After several bogey and par saves, I finished the nine with a 44, an acceptable score after my feeble start. As I headed to the tenth tee, I chanced upon Coach Bomgaars. He regretfully informed me that Marc and Joe were crumbling, and that I had the fourth score after nine holes. I assured him that I would finish strong on the back nine, while secretly I was as uncertain as a pregnant sixteen year-old. I had finished the front nine well but had no idea if I could cope with so much pressure. I did tell him that if it came down to my score, he should tell the team not to come watch me on the eighteenth hole, because it would make me uneasy. He agreed.

As I approached the first tee of the most critical nine holes of my life, I tried not to believe that the victory may rest with me. As hard as I tried to avoid a storm on the back nine, I could not dodge the lightning. My nerves began to translate into poor shots and missed putts, and my spirits slowly began to fade. By the eighteenth hole, I was nine over on the back nine. As I stepped up for my tee shot on the circuitous eighteenth hole, I splashed my first ball right into the pond. My head dropped. I slowly sauntered to the spot where my ball had entered the hazard and tried to muster one last spurt of faith. I dropped a ball and hit a fine shot over the water onto the second section of fairway. At that point I was hitting my fourth shot, and thought I could still find the green and salvage what was left of my round. I yearned to finish strong, but my heart was racing faster than a freight train. I noticed that dozens of people had gathered around the green to watch the tournament unfold. I did not see my teammates or my coach. It registered that Bomgaars may have kept his promise to not watch me if they needed my score. I was not sure if I could still make a difference, but just the thought of all the pressure made me fold like a cheap suitcase. I made a poor swing and shanked the ball into the water. The impending feeling was a huge wave of disappointment that crashed down upon me like a tsunami. I quickly dropped a ball to hit my sixth shot and miraculously, it landed on the green. I meandered to the green staring intently at my shoestrings. I could hear the murmurs of disapproval and feel the piercing stares of the masses. I pulled out my putter and two putted for a triple bogey. I had produced a 48 on the back nine, making my eighteen hole score a 92.

It was not until I had trudged back to the club house that I found out the entire story. I learned that Joe had posted a 92 and that Ballard’s sixth man had pulled out an 81 to win it for them by one stroke. I discovered that I could have won it for us by bogeying that final hole. I was already miserable, but this horrifying news burned into me like acid. I took a seat with my teammates. We remained speechless for several minutes, and the silence only added to the gloom. Everyone seemed to feel that it had been their fault in one way or another. No one pointed fingers, and for that I am sincerely grateful. We were dejected, but we were dejected together. We remained a unit just as we always had, despite the tears glistening in our eyes.

I realize that winning is not everything, and when I look back on this season in years to come, I know I will be impressed by our achievements. Although our season did not yield perfect results, I believe our team accomplished something much more meaningful. We established a team spirit that was absolutely the strongest bond of kinship I have ever felt. Our team’s tight-knit bond of companionship was more meaningful than any number of state championships. I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to compete alongside those guys, and I will always remember every one of them. The memory of that imperfect season will always linger in the depths of my mind, but more importantly the excellence of our team will forever be engraved upon my soul.

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