Ben Andringa and Quinn Westlake rose through Crookston golf's ranks

Jacob Shames
Quinn Westlake

This story appears in the Crookston Times' May 27 Community Connections issue.

In his years of coaching high school golf, Steve Kofoed has become familiar with how a different mindset, a different role, or even playing with a different opponent can unlock another gear in certain golfers.

This spring, Kofoed had hoped that would be the case for Ben Andringa and Quinn Westlake.

The two seniors had been a part of the Crookston boys’ golf team since they were seventh graders. In those days, the Pirates, who won the Section 8AA tournament in 2015, were deep and talented, and Andringa and Westlake mostly played behind veterans like Isaac Westlake, Ben Trostad and Brock Heppner. It wasn’t their time just yet, but as the veterans moved on, Andringa and Westlake moved up, gradually learning what it took to find success on the course.

This year, they were the last two links to that state-qualifying team of 2015. This year was their year.

Kofoed thought that 2020 might be a rebuilding season of sorts for the Pirates. But with Andringa and Westlake, he was confident in what he had.

The two seniors brought distinct styles to the golf course. Andringa, on one hand, is a “freak athlete” in Kofoed’s words, with quick hands and a powerful drive. Kofoed remembers a tournament in Erskine when Andringa was in eighth grade, facing a 385-yard Par 5 from the red tees. The rest of the players in his group needed four or five shots to cover that distance. Andringa’s tee shot landed landed just 20 yards shy of the green.

“You got those kids that are just talented and have the hands and are strong at a young age, and that was something that Ben was able to do,” Kofoed said. “A lot of the times for us, it was trying to (remind him) that hitting the golf ball 330 yards is awesome, but when you write down a six, there are seventh graders that write down a four and only hit it 180.”

The other challenge with Andringa was having to share him with track and field during the spring. His athleticism extended to other sports — in high school, he competed in cross country, soccer, football, hockey, golf and track at one time or another — but his senior year would have been the first time since his freshman year he played two sports in the same season.

The rarity of the golf/track split at the high school level, though — Kofoed estimates it happens in Section 8AA just once every few years — made what Andringa was attempting to pull off a minor miracle.

“Coach (Wayne) Folkers and I just realized that he wants to do both, and he’s capable of being pretty good in both,” Kofoed said. “ … If he would have just picked one (instead of) going both directions, he probably would have been a little bit better, but at least once a week I see him run by my house, and if you go to the golf course it was pretty hard to not see his car parked in the parking lot.”

Westlake, meanwhile, spent his springs focused solely on golf. Isaac, his older brother by four years, went on to play at Winona State, and Kofoed believes there are plenty of similarities between the brothers’ playing styles.

“Quinn understands how to get around on a golf course,” Kofoed said. “He can get himself out of trouble, he can string together a big stretch of four, five, six, seven, eight holes where he plays even par or 1-over. If you do that for half of your round, it’s pretty hard to shoot a bad score.”

It’s Westlake’s demeanor that also stood out to Kofoed. On the course, his composure reminded him of a number of great players he’s watched or coached, and helped Westlake maintain consistency throughout long stretches of rounds— the consistency that can separate a mere good player from a great one.

“I couldn't look at Quinn from two fairways over and say ‘Oh, he's playing really well’ or ‘Oh, Quinn’s gonna come in with a big number,’ ” Kofoed said. “Quinn was mature enough to be able to make a pretty good leap because of that this year.”

While both seniors played on varsity last season, feeling the pressure of being relied on for a low score to carry the team for the first time, it was the potential of a year in the ‘1’ and ‘2’ spots that intrigued Kofoed. He thought Westlake, in particular, could benefit from a jump of that nature: he frequently played in the ‘5’ or ‘6’ spot previously, playing with an opponent who would have been happy to break 100. Sometimes, in Kofoed’s mind, the effect of pairings in golf can be contagious.

“When you play with better players, as long as you don't get intimidated by them, you just get carried along,” Kofoed said. “You get somebody that's playing well, it goes one or two ways: you're gonna get mad because you're not playing as well and then you're gonna go backwards, or you're gonna ride their coattails and you’re gonna realize, ‘Holy cow, I just made six pars in a row.’ ”

After six years of steady development, Andringa and Westlake were in prime position to — and plenty good enough — to take advantage. Would a run to the state championship have been out of the question before the COVID-19 pandemic hit? Kofoed doesn’t think so.

“They’ve always done the work that (assistant coach Wes Hanson) and I were asking,” he said. “ … If both of them played well, it was just a matter of a couple rounds, because they were good enough to be able to go out and shoot 80 at Bemidji (where the section tournament is held) two different days in a row and at least put themselves in the mix.”

But the Pirates will never know for sure.

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