Chris Johnson said Monday’s round felt different. He felt more comfortable than earlier this year.
Johnson, a Hickman sophomore, decided to change his approach entering the Class 4 District 5 boys’ golf tournament at Meadow Lake Acres Country Club in New Bloomfield.
Johnson said he took the pressure off himself and headed to the first tee ready to have fun.
The strategy worked.
Johnson, last year’s district champion, defended his title to help the Kewpies win the team title and advance to the Class 4 State Championships May 16-17 at Silo Ridge Country Club in Bolivar.
Hickman shot a 314 to beat runner-up Jefferson City by 18 strokes. Rock Bridge finished ninth out of the 10 teams with 359.
Johnson said he has not met all his expectations this season, but he was glad to play well at the right time.
“I had been setting really high goals for myself,” Johnson said. “I was putting too much pressure on myself. I tried to go out there and not overthink things and have fun with it.”
Hickman overcame the cold and windy conditions to shoot five of the top seven scores in the tournament. Johnson shot a 3-over 75, Nick Wilson shot a 79, D.J. Chung and Kyle Kovar both shot 80 and Drew Weir shot an 81. All five Hickman golfers made the All-District team.
Under a new format, only one team advanced out of each of the district tournaments. In past seasons, the top two teams advanced.
Johnson said he knew the Kewpies were capable of finishing in the top two, but said they would have to perform well to advance.
“With the new format we knew we had to do good as a team,” Johnson said. “There was no razzle-dazzle out there today due to the conditions, but we grinded it out and now can now look forward to state.”
Johnson said there were two holes where the elements could have hurt him.
On the 15th hole, Johnson lipped out a birdie putt and the wind blew the ball five feet away from the hole.
On the 17th hole, Johnson pitched a ball downhill from behind the green that almost went in before the wind took it nearly 15 feet to the front of the green. On both holes Johnson managed to save par to keep his medal hopes alive.
Johnson said he wasn’t sure his 75 was good enough when he walked off the course and he was surprised to win.
Hickman coach Clark Swisher said Johnson was deserving of his medal.
“Chris is a true golfer,” Swisher said. “He is always working on his game the whole year and he has so much potential. He showed a lot out there today with the conditions the way they were and the range of scores shot.”
The cut-off for qualifying individually for the state tournament was 83. Thomas Schuenemeyer had the Bruin’s best round with an 89.
“I’m a little disappointed,” Rock Bridge coach Doug Daniels said. “If I was playing, I’d be mad. It was tough on everybody out there today.”
The Kewpies will look to improve upon their fourth-place finish at last year’s state tournament. Johnson hopes his team adopts his new mentality and doesn’t let expectations get to them.
“The expectations are high,” Johnson said. “Last year none of us really played our best. I hope we all just go out there and have fun this time and play like we know we can.”