With great weather and hosting the Cougar Classic on its home course, Columbia College golf coach John Utley had high hopes for this week.
Yet despite having a Cougars golfer finishing runner-up in both the men’s and women’s standings, CC walked away from its annual fall tournament at Columbia Country Club without a winner’s medal to its name.
After a final round Tuesday that Utley said was “tough to swallow,” the men — who led after Monday’s first round — finished second behind champions Missouri Valley, while the women stayed in third place behind runners-up Park and winners William Woods.
CC’s Noah Wilson, who shot a 71 to finish 1-under par, and Mackenzie Ray, who had an 82 both days to finish 18-over, both earned all-tournament team nods for their separate second-place finishes.
Wilson was one of two golfers, along with overall winner Nicolas Evangelio of Missouri Valley, to end his tournament under par, though it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
With a double bogey on the 13th and back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th, Wilson was in a slump before hole-ing out for eagle on the 17th and notching a birdie on the 18th.
Wilson said that before the eagle, assistant coach Michelle Butler jokingly told him that she would jump in nearby water if he holed out from about 90 yards. Butler didn’t follow up on her promise and Wilson laughed as he said he “didn’t think she was going to do it,” but it was an amusing moment in a great round for the junior from Palmyra.
“She’s like, ‘I’ll hop in the water if you make this,’ and I hit it and I said, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” Wilson said of the moment on the 17th. “Coming into this I was feeling really confident, I had a putter change and it was probably the best I’ve ever putted in a college tournament. It was a really good ending and much needed.”
However, humorous moments like the one on the 17th weren’t commonplace for CC Tuesday. While Utley lauded about Wilson and Ray’s performances, he felt the depth of the team wasn’t good enough.
“You’ve got to have four scorers,” Utley said about the men’s team. “Being our home course, we’ve got two guys that are capable of shooting under par any day of the week and they both shot 82. It’s a hard game, but we’ve got to make it happen.”
Amongst the men’s squad, Utley was referring to Jesper Holke-Farnam and Laithan Sublette, who both shot 82 in the second round and dropped CC out of a Day 1 two-shot lead to a Day 2 finish five shots outside of first.
On Monday, Sublette shot 72 and Holke-Farnam was on pace for a first round low-70s score before withdrawing due to a wrist injury suffered on the 15th hole. With Sublette healthy and Holke-Farnam not having “any effects” from his injury, Utley thought that it was the youth of the duo that got the better of them.
“(They’re) probably trying too hard,” Utley said. “They’re young people. That’s just the nature of our sport and our challenges as coaches. It’s frustrating, but at the same time I understand that they’re young people, they’re learning. Just hopefully we learn something from today.”
With many uphill shots and what Utley called a “healthy” rough that often requires strength and power to get out of in one shot, Columbia Country Club proved to be a challenge to the women, especially to those who struggle with hitting balls for distance. As 39 male golfers shot 20-over or lower for the tournament, only four women managed the same.
But despite the course’s difficulty, it’s still CC’s home course and nothing that the Cougars haven’t seen before. That was a main reason why Utley was wishing he could’ve seen more from his women’s team.
“This course is harder for our women than any place we play,” Utley said. “We’re very fortunate to play here, because when we do go to other places, it seems like it’s easier. We’ve got some soul searching to do ... it’s our home course. We’re better than what we’ve played the last two days.”
Ray and Mindy Hennrich, both finished in the top three for Columbia, but only Ray counted for the team score; Utley did not mark Hennrich as one of his five scoring players before the tournament began.
After shooting 82 Monday, Ray said that Tuesday was all about staying consistent and not “blowing up” her score. With another 82 on Tuesday to finish second overall, it’s safe to say Ray stuck to her goal.
“As long as you keep it in the fairway, as I tried to do, you usually have a pretty good shot at par,” Ray said. “It wasn’t my best round over 18 holes, but for two days, for sure, it was my best.”