Golf: How low can you go? Some concoct a guessJune 7, 2017
By MICHAEL HUGHES
Steve Milligan has a secret, and he won’t tell.
It’s before last Friday’s sectional, and five minutes before Luke Lehane is the first Jasper golfer to tee off. Milligan, the Wildcat golf coach, makes his prediction for what his team will shoot that day. Soon after, assistant coach Michael Bies does the same, and Wildcat players try their best to pry out what the guess might be.
But Milligan won’t tell. He never has, ever since he started this ritual when he first started coaching. He didn’t reveal his guess when Bies was a golfer for him until 2011, and still doesn’t now that Bies’ younger brother, Jack, is a sophomore on the team.
“I’ve been doing it my whole career, and they always ask me after the matches what I picked and I show them,” Milligan said. “They always ask after the match how close we came, and we come pretty close most of the time.”
At sectional, Milligan’s prediction of 305 was six strokes lower than Jasper’s winning score of 311. Michael’s guess was 309, so he won the bragging rights for that round. The two coaches will be doing their best to guess the correct score Thursday, when Jasper travels to Henryville’s Champions Pointe Golf Club to compete in the regional alongside Heritage Hills, Forest Park and Southridge senior Drew Dearing, who qualified individually.
Milligan estimates it’ll require around a 298 to advance to the state finals, a score he believes the Wildcats are more than capable of. That’s not his prediction, though. Milligan won’t make his estimate until after the Wildcats are finished with all their regional practice rounds.
“We watch practice a couple days before the match, and that’s how we come up with the number,” Milligan said. “I also look at the course we’re going to be playing, and that’s how I come up with my number, and before we start each of us takes a scorecard and I put my number on one side and (Bies) puts his number on the other side.”
Michael said he was looking forward to being on the other side of the guessing game when Milligan returned as Jasper’s coach before this season. Like the current Wildcats, he and his teammates pestered Milligan for his prediction before they teed off, but were always met with the same response.
“He didn’t really budge,” Michael said. “It was kind of like a superstition thing for him, I think.”
Jack has a different theory for why Milligan won’t tip his hand. It has less to do with superstition and more with not psyching out any players with a pressure to shoot a certain number. Earlier this season, Jack said he was struggling because he was thinking too much about his score on his own.
“During the round I’ll start thinking, ‘Oh I’m even (par) right now,’ and that could just lead to me thinking I could finish even and I could blow up from there,” Jack said. “I think the first time I didn’t think about my number was senior night, and I’ve play so much better from then on.”
Still, Jack likes Milligan and his brother putting their best guess forward. Since the number is usually relatively low, Jack said it provides confidence. The guessing also isn’t so much speculation, since it’s formed after watching the Wildcats practice. That means it shows how Milligan thinks his team should be playing.
“It shows that they care and want us to play up to our potential,” Michael said.
Milligan might be the only one to make a game out of it, but he’s not alone in his predictions. Forest Park coach Chris Tretter said he often maps out what the Rangers might shoot. Before the sectional, Tretter also shared that number — somewhere in the low 350s — with an important reminder attached.
“Guys, in order to accomplish that if you do the math, you guys just need to go out and shoot somewhere between 83 and 87,” he remembers saying. “Nobody has to be a hero. Nobody has to throw four touchdown passes, nobody needs to go 4-for-4 with five runs batted in and nobody needs to score 35 points and pull down 15 rebounds. All we have to do is do what we’ve done all year long — somewhere between 83 and 87.”
The Rangers finished at 349, eight strokes clear of the fourth-place team to qualifying for the first regional in program history. Tretter never really establishes individual expectations, however. On occasion he’s talked about setting a personal-best before a round, but he’s never established a specific number he wants a player to clear.
“The more we can do to relax these guys the better they’re going to play,” Tretter said. “That’s why the discussion before the round at the sectional was more around ‘Hey you don’t have to be a hero, here’s all we really need.’ My belief there is if I relax them enough and they can focus and stay relaxed, then they’ll go out and shoot that low round. I try to keep pressure off instead of pressure on.”
Heritage Hills coach Marc Schum is alike in the mindset.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea when you’re trying to teach kids to hit one shot at a time and to try and think about each shot,” Schum said. “The previous shot will affect what you do on the next one, so if you put numbers out there, it’s just not a good idea.”
In the past, Schum said he’s tried guessing numbers before rounds are played, but with how unpredictable he said his team has been this year, it’s been a little too difficult to try. Patriot senior Alex Gordon has his own system before matches with his dad, Steve.
“My dad will usually say right before I head off to the bus, ‘What’s a number you’ll take without even teeing the ball up?’ Usually he’ll throw a number at me and I’ll decide. Usually in a tournament like (regional) I’ll know I need something low if I have a hope of getting out. Other tournaments you can just kind of go out there, shoot whatever you do and wait it out.”
Still, Gordon also said he does his best to not think in terms of his score for the round while he’s on the course.
“I try not to, but naturally you’ll know,” Gordon said. “Some of my better rounds I’ll forget about but later in the day I’ll realize I had a couple of birdies there and a bogey there so I’m a couple over (par).”
Forest Park senior Bryce Brosmer has spent the past couple years moving past thinking about what he’s shooting at any particular moment. Brosmer said he thought about that a good amount his sophomore year, and subsequently struggled to play how he wanted. Now, he plays relatively freely.
“It made me realize that not every round is going to be a good round and not every shot is going to be a good shot,” Brosmer said. “You’re going to have some mistakes but you need to take advantage of the good shots.”
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