By BEN JOHNSON
Nick Baker has a problem on his hands. It’s a great problem to have, though.
Before postseason golf rolls around in May, Baker has to decide which five golfers he wants to take to the Class 5A regional tournament in McAlester. Those five — out of a potential 10 qualified candidates — will determine if Tahlequah is in the championship hunt in Lawton at the 5A state tournament.
“It’s a good problem to have, and it’s also tough,” Baker said. “I’ve been taking seven guys, for the most part, to our tournaments because I know I have those guys that can play. Now I just have to make a decision based on their qualifying scores and their tournament scores. My top three guys are pretty much set in stone, but we’re looking for the four and five.”
Baker’s collection of golfers put on quite a display on Tuesday at Cherokee Springs Golf Course. Tahlequah’s A team — consisting of Jake Johnson, Hunter Pennington, Blake Berry, Kyler Arnall and Blake Cochran — posted a 309 and coasted to the team title at the Tahlequah Invitational.
“It’s a great title, especially after coming back from yesterday,” said Pennington, whose club finished second behind Bishop Kelley at the Metro Lakes Conference in Grove on Tuesday. “We knew that we didn’t win (on Monday), so we had to win our home tournament.”
They certainly did that — plus some.
Baker’s other team in the field — Brent Spradlin, Brandt Emerson, Aaron Crawley, Dakota Perry and Tyler Winn — combined to shoot a 326 and pick up the tournament’s second-place plaque.
“Tahlequah’s A team and B team, we didn’t have a score over 84, and we took first and second,” Baker said. “That’s impressive. I hope we can keep building on that. I just have to figure out which five I’m going to take to the regional tournament.”
Tahlequah’s medal haul didn’t end there, though. The Tigers ended up with six golfers in the top 10 on the individual leaderboard.
Leading the way was Johnson, who carded an even-par 72. It came a day after he finished a shot off of the winning pace at the conference tournament at Patricia Island.
“Last year to do it,” said Johnson, a senior who shot a two-under, 34, on the back nine to erase his two-over, 38, on the front. “Had to come out here and (win it).”
Leading after nine holes with a front-side 35, Pennington finished with a 39 on the back nine for a total of 74. He finished fourth at the conference tournament on Monday, despite being only two shots behind medalist, Bishop Kelley’s Jack Woolslayer.
Pennington admitted to having a homefield advantage at Cherokee Springs — which is still undergoing renovations on the east side of the course, thus cutting the course down to nine holes.
“I do feel like I had the advantage today,” Pennington said. “But, I played great today. That’s all I can say.”
The forecast called for sunny skies and a typical breeze that’s common in April. It turned into a blustery day with wind gusts occasionally around 30 mph.
But did the weather alter the way that Johnson and Pennington played?
“It’s tough to play in the wind, but you just have to play smart,” Johnson said. “Just have to be conservative and you’ll score well. Just have to play more towards the middle of the green, instead of going after everything.”
Said Pennington: “I change it a little; I go for the middle of the green and try not to be too aggressive. I also hit lower shots — or, more lower shots, anyway.”
Picking up third-place honors in the tournament was Sallisaw’s Ty Stites with a 77. Poteau’s Connor Wheat was fourth with a 79, and Perry was fifth with an 80 for the Tigers.
Next up for Tahlequah will be the Tournament of Champions in Ada on Monday.
At Cherokee Springs Golf Course
1. Tahlequah A - 309
2. Tahlequah B - 326
3. Sallisaw - 327
4. Poteau - 332
5. Wagoner - 353
6. Muldrow - 355
7. Pryor - 368
8. Coweta - 381
9. Claremore - 382
10. Stilwell - 454
11. Sequoyah - 474
1. Jake Johnson (Tahlequah) - 72
2. Hunter Pennington (Tahlequah) - 74
3. Ty Stites (Sallisaw) - 77
4. Connor Wheat (Poteau) - 79
5. Dakota Perry (Tahlequah) - 80
6. Blake Berry (Tahlequah) - 80
7. Tyler Winn (Tahlequah) - 80
8. Brent Spradlin (Tahlequah) - 82
9. Jarrett Lowrimore (Poteau) - 82
10. Cody Shore (Poteau) - 82
Tahlequah A: Blake Cochran 83; Kyler Arnall 84.
Tahlequah B: Brandt Emerson 84; Aaron Crawley 84.
Sequoyah: Tanner Ridge 100; McRae Cochran 112; Ethan Hummingbird 130; Levi Cantwell 132.