Golf coaches reflect on winning seasons
     2015-05-28      By Jerry Purvis    news@geringcitizen.com
Courtesy photo - The Scottsbluff High School Boy’s Golf team members are, from left, Taylor York, Vince Quijas, Coach Mike Klein, Jonah Wright, Koy Potthoff, Jared Pilkington, Sean Mercer-Smith, Baily Hort, and Craig Smith.  
Two coaches – one a perennial qualifier for the state golf tournament and another going to state for the first time in many years – shared their thoughts on what it takes to play the game well.

For four years, Mike Klein’s Scottsbluff boys’ team has qualified for the state tournament. They’ve finished as champions, runners up, and in third. This season, the Bearcats were consistent tournament winners and also won the Class B district playoffs.

“A lot of things go into a championship mindset,” Klein said. “Once you get a decent golf game, you have to learn to be tough. Can you hold up under pressure? Can you play well at the big tournaments? You have to play in the present and forget the bad shots. Otherwise a player is his own worst enemy.”

Klein said his goal is for the team to steadily improve and be playing their best golf when the district tournament rolls around so they can qualify for state. “I’ve had some talented kids over the years and that helps. They listen and spend time when we’re not at practice to work on their games.”

Keaton Green has coached the Gering boys’ golf team for the past five years. He agreed that players have to be level-headed to be successful at the game. “They have to have their emotions under control and be mentally tough,” he said. “Golf is a big mental game and the next shot is always the most important one. Players have to let go of any previous bad shots and keep focused in the present.”

To do that, Gering spent a lot of time focusing on the short game as Green stressed that part of the game. “Young golfers don’t spend a lot of time on that part of the game as they’re growing up,” Green said. “They just want to drive the ball as far as they can. So we have to switch their mindset. They’re going to use their putters on every hole, so they need to make good putts. And they have to be good around the green with their wedge shots. We work on that and the full swing just falls into place.”

Working on the short game has paid off for Gering, who qualified as a team for the state tournament. They’ve consistently finished in the top half of most tournaments. At the district meet in Sidney, they finished third for an automatic berth at state.
One of the big satisfactions both coaches expressed was seeing their players improve over the season. Klein’s team included two freshmen who just started playing the game and have made dramatic improvements as the season rolled on.

“Jared Pilkington has probably improved the most from high scores to low scores,” Klein said. “But it’s a day-to-day thing for everyone. A player will shoot a low score one day and not do as well on another.”

For Klein, a perennial winning coach, he said the attitude of “year-round golf” is important. He started coaching the girls’ team in 2003 and then added the boys’ team four years ago. He said that while the boys will usually work on their game in their own time, that attitude is spreading to the girls’ team as well.

The attitude of year-round golf doesn’t end with the state tournament. Over the summer, Klein will take his returning players to tournaments around the area.
Green also stresses having his players get out on the greens over the summer. “The Panhandle does a great job in putting on a junior tour,” he said. “Coach Klein from Scottsbluff runs that and anyone can join for a nominal fee and then play all the courses in the area. It’s a great way for players to not only play in competitions, but also to play a bunch of different courses.”

One of Green’s outstanding performers this season was senior Alex Lupher, who “worked his tail off last summer.” Green said summer is really when a golfer needs to put in the time. “We only have a short time together as a team, so there’s not a lot of time for major improvements in those few months.”

He added the younger players, including Grant Maser and Mason Marsh, are always on the course working on their games.

All the practice, all the traveling to tournaments is an important part of being a high school golfer. However both coaches said it’s even more important for players to gain confidence, enjoy the game and keep playing as they become adults.
The Citizen will have a wrap-up in next week’s edition on the state tournament and how our local teams performed.

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