Pirates come into season hoping for steady improvement
When sports started making their return to American life last summer after the initial outbreak of COVID-19, golf was one of the first to come back.
Plenty of members of the Crookston boys' golf team took advantage of the ability to hit the course while still maintaining social distance. They didn't necessarily play competitively, but they at least got outside and gained experience.
Does that mean they'll be able to handle the ups and downs and pressure of a full season?
Steve Kofoed doesn't know yet, but the Pirates' coach is eager to find out.
Crookston has traditionally been one of the stronger teams in the 16-team Section 8AA. The Pirates, whose most recent section title and state tournament appearance came in 2015, finished second in the North sub-section and fourth in the section overall in 2019.
But until the Pirates are at least a few weeks into their season — they open Thursday morning against Grafton (N.D.) at King's Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks — Kofoed just wants to see them get better from event to event.
"I have no clue what score we're gonna shoot," Kofoed said Tuesday. "That doesn't matter. It's us going out, feeling like we enjoyed ourselves, we made decisions that didn't sink us. ... We'll know more after we've got a few weeks under our belt. It's hard to say we want to shoot 315 when I don't know if we're gonna be a 340, a 350 team or what over the course of the season."
Right now, Kofoed sees Crookston's lineup as partly decided. Three or four spots might already be accounted for, while the remaining two or three could change depending on performance.
At the top of the pecking order there's senior Jaxon Wang, the lone returner from the 2019 varsity squad. Wang typically posted scores in the mid to high-80s as a sophomore. Blaine Andringa, a junior, spent 2019 as the Pirates' No. 7 or No. 8 golfer. While nothing's 100 percent, Kofoed expects Wang and Andringa to claim spots.
Seniors Gavin Anderson and Kaleb Thingelstad came out for golf for the first time last season before COVID-19 hit. As he hasn't really seen them play yet, Kofoed doesn't know what to expect from them, but Thingelstad has told Kofoed he can shoot in the 80s.
Then there's the Pirates' young core, consisting of 13 golfers between seventh and ninth grades and "a lot of kids that put together a decent round once or twice." Kofoed hasn't seen these players, most of whom have grown physically and added substantial distance to their drives.
"There's a few seventh and eighth grade kids that would not shock me if they're getting themselves into a varsity spot," Kofoed said. "If they play well, it might be a spot that they hold for five or six years."
Assuming Crookston's golfers both young and old have followed a typical progression, Kofoed thinks he'll have at least six and possibly up to 12 golfers averaging rounds in the upper 80s and low 90s this season.
Of course, this year is different, and when the Pirates filled out their annual player info sheets where they wrote down their best scores, average scores and handicaps, Kofoed got a lot of answers in the vein of I'm not sure.
"They're playing with grandma and grandpa, mom and dad," Kofoed said. "That's a different story than when they're showing up and playing a high school tournament and having a little pressure."
Kofoed expects this season to be the most unpredictable in his 15 years of coaching. The aforementioned pressure has a lot to do with it.
While the Pirates have golfers that played last year, Crookston is relatively isolated in northwest Minnesota. Most of the competitive summer tournaments for high schoolers were played in central Minnesota and the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, making it hard for Crookston kids to travel.
Adapting to the tournament atmosphere will take a strong mental game, in Kofoed's opinion.
"One of the biggest things about high school golf is, can you manage your game on the golf course," Kofoed said. "Can you understand, if I make eights and nines I'm gonna be in trouble, but if I make fives and sixes it's not gonna be the end of the world depending on what score I'm trying to shoot."
The Pirates will host the Section 8AA North sub-section tournament at Minakwa Golf Course in May, which Kofoed thinks is a huge advantage. In addition to being able to play a course they're familiar with, Kofoed doesn't see the North as being a juggernaut this year.
That means Crookston should have a chance to get to the section tournament in Bemidji in June and be competitive there. But with the Pirates' unknowns, Kofoed doesn't have that as a firm expectation. Depending on the first few weeks of the season, it may look more attainable.
"What I'm really looking for is to show some improvement throughout the season," Kofoed said. "Just narrow down to who's taking information and going from one tournament to the next and applying it."
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