COLUMBIA — On a wintery February afternoon, the six golfers that make up the Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic varsity team gathered at their two-year-old high school. Snowed out from the links and denied access to their regular driving facility at Stephens College’s Natatorium, the golfers did the only thing they could do on such a day. They hauled their golf bags upstairs to a classroom, took out some balls and practiced putting.
Connor McCarty was the first to step up. A transfer student who plays every day in the summer at various Columbia courses, the former Rock Bridge golfer placed his ball down. Brown carpeting replaced Bermuda grass. Small chairs and single-person desks surrounded him instead of oak trees and sand traps as he lined up his putt.
“I got it, I’m going first,” said McCarty, who, along with 2012 state qualifier Jack Golden, is expected to be one of the Trailblazers’ top-ranked golfers. He let his swing go and watched as his ball rotated along the carpet faster than he had expected.
“Too much,” Tolton coach Dean Gregory said as the ball rolled.
Gregory was right. The ball hit the wall of the classroom, earning no points for McCarty in a putting game meant to improve the speed of the ball.
The Trailblazers worked on their putting for more than an hour, mostly by playing a tournament game whose objective was to putt as close to the wall as possible without actually hitting it.
“You have to make putting fun,” Gregory said. “Otherwise they won’t practice it.”
In addition to Dean Gregory, whose son Austin Gregory is one of Tolton’s golfers, the team has three assistant coaches, including Joe Bellmer, who has won multiple city championships.
While the Trailblazers aren’t lacking coaches, they are lacking players. Dean Gregory initially thought he would have seven golfers, not enough for both a varsity and junior varsity team. But after the first week of practice, they only had six players.
“I tried to get my friends out (to practice), but to no avail,” said Jack Murray, one of two freshmen on the team.
In addition to its size, the team also has to fight for tee time. Because of a city provision allowing public high schools free access to L.A. Nickell Municipal Golf Course for athletic purposes, Tolton’s team has to squeeze in practices when the course is available. The Trailblazers will also practice at Lake of the Woods Golf Course where there is no such provision.
“We get whatever’s left of practice time,” Gregory said.
Despite these challenges, the Trailblazers are aiming to have a breakout season. Both Golden and McCarty have big-match experience, and the whole team is a tight-knit group brought together by their love of golf.
At the end of practice, Gregory asked his players to think about their personal and team goals for the season. Once again, McCarty was the first to step up.
“Honestly, we don’t know what this year is going to hold,” said McCarty, who because of his transfer status is unable to play for the team during state qualifiers. “But for next year, we should be aiming for a conference championship. Ultimately, I see no reason why we can’t be aiming for state.”
Tolton opens its schedule with a three-team meet against Westran and Marceline on March 21 in Moberly.