By BEN JOHNSON
First-round scores of the Class 5A state tournament will be posted Monday at Tulsa Country Club. Names that you won’t find on the leaderboard will be Kyler Arnall, Blake Cochran, Aaron Crawley, Trent Falwell, Dakota Perry or Kyle Deason.
That group of Tahlequah golfers, in fact, won’t even make the trip to Tulsa. But their impact will be felt throughout the entire 5A field.
“All those guys received tournament experience this year,” Tahlequah coach Nick Baker said, “and they were instrumental in getting the team ready for regionals and state.”
The ensemble that Baker will take to the state tournament includes Jake Johnson, Brent Spradlin, Hunter Pennington, Brandt Emerson and Blake Berry. Those are the five that posted the team’s best scores when it came time to divvy out postseason spots.
For Baker, it’s a catch 22. He has a plethora of aptly-qualified golfers to choose from, yet he has to tell a handful of them that they can’t participate in the two biggest tournaments of the high school season.
“It’s a great problem to have as a coach,” Baker said. “But it’s tough to have to leave any of the guys at home. They are all competitive and want a spot on the team.”
With other teammates pushing for his spot as the No. 5 bag, Emerson said securing that final spot is a blessing.
“It’s a big accomplishment,” he said. “I’ve been trying all year. I got to play in a couple of tournaments, and I also got beat out for a couple of tournaments. It’s helped me set my goal to practice a lot harder, and I made it. I made it through the last stretch.”
Even Berry and Pennington, the Nos. 3 and 4 bags, respectively, know if they don’t play up to their potential, their spots could be handed to someone else.
“I try to work a lot harder to try to get that spot,” Pennington said.
Berry said: “It makes you push harder and makes you keep trying until you get that spot in the top five. Makes me stay out here longer [and practice] until dark.”
Of the 11 golfers vying for those top five spots, only Deason is a senior. So, among the five on the state-tournament team, who does everyone else look to for leadership?
“Jake Johnson and Brent Spradlin, both juniors, have shown great leadership,” Baker said. “They are good students and conduct themselves with class on and off the course. They are both good examples for future Tigers to follow.”