By MICHAEL BURWELL
Upper Sandusky’s Brett Montgomery and Riverdale’s Andrew Kuenzli will be on familiar territory for Ohio high school golf’s biggest stage this weekend.
Montgomery will tee it up in the OHSAA Division II state tournament at NorthStar Golf Club in Sunbury. He will start his opening round at 10:50 a.m. today off the No. 1 hole.
Meanwhile, Kuenzli will compete in the Division III state tournament at The Ohio State University Scarlet Course. He will begin play on No. 10 at 10:40 a.m. today.
The final round for both divisions will be Saturday, with tee times determined by first-round finishes.
Both players have put together standout seasons en route to returning to the state tournament on courses they’ve played before. Montgomery, a senior who is making his third trip to state, finished tied for ninth at the 2017 Division II state tournament at NorthStar.
“I just want to play the golf I know I’m capable of playing,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to have a good time no matter what, but it’s going to be a lot more fun if I play well.”
Kuenzli, a junior, returns to the Scarlet Course after finishing tied for 51st as a freshman in 2017.
“It’s going to be fun,” Kuenzli said. “It’s going to be a fun challenge and hopefully I do well.”
For Montgomery, the Rams’ senior is hoping to put together two solid rounds.
As a sophomore in his first state tournament round, he fired an even-par 72 on the 6,600-yard NorthStar layout to grab a spot near the top of the leaderboard. But he shot a 79 in the final round to finish tied for ninth.
Last year, Montgomery opened his state tournament at the Scarlet Course with a 4-over 76 and was positioned in the top five. A second-round 86, though, pushed him back for a tied-for-17th finish.
“I was in that position sophomore year. I was in that same position last year, put myself in good position after the first day and just didn’t play the golf I’m capable of playing the second day,” Montgomery said. “But it all comes down to mental toughness, I think.
“You’re going to be nervous, but you have to bear down and get through it. It’s the first tee jitters, but once you hit that first tee shot, then you’re kind of in your own zone and you’re not really focused on anything but just playing golf. If you stay mentally tough going into Saturday, then that’s really all you can do.”
NorthStar, which can stretch to more than 7,500 yards from the back tees, played around 6,700 yards in 2017 and will likely be around there again this weekend.
More of an open course than Scarlet, NorthStar is a place that Montgomery says suits his game.
“I’ve always liked NorthStar, the layout of NorthStar. It fits my eye,” Montgomery said. “When I step up there, I have unlimited confidence and I think NorthStar sets up a little bit better for me than Scarlet does because Scarlet has bunkers out there at 290-300 (yards) that have my name written all over them.
“But at NorthStar … I’m struggling off the tee a little bit right now but that’s OK because at NorthStar, it’s pretty open. You can just get it out there. It all comes down to who’s hitting greens and making putts, so I think NorthStar fits my game about as good as any golf course can.”
Montgomery, who has won three district titles, three sectional titles, two Northern 10 Conference titles and four N10 player of the year awards, is looking for a big finish to his high school career.
“I’ve played in a lot of big events over the summers. Playing with a lot of good kids, you’re not going to win a lot of tournaments so when you’re in a position to win, you just kind of have to get into a different zone where you lock in and it’s really all you can really focus on,” Montgomery said. “We just need to find a way to get into that zone on Saturday.
“I’m going to hit some good golf shots, I’m going to hit some not-so-good golf shots, but if we stay focused and we’re mentally tough for two days in a row, then I think it’s already an advantage on the rest of the field.”
Down the road in Columbus, Kuenzli is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Division III district tournament at Stone Ridge Golf Club in Bowling Green. The Blanchard Valley Conference tournament medalist and player of the year snatched the third of four qualifying spots after shooting a 6-over 78.
In his first trip to the state tournament, Kuenzli opened with a 92 on the long par-72 Scarlet Course. He improved the second day with a 90 for his 51st-place finish.
This time around, Kuenzli is looking for significant improvement. Being two years older could help out as well.
“I’m definitely a lot bigger, hit it a lot farther so I won’t be as disadvantaged as what I was as a freshman,” Kuenzli said. “It’ll help a lot.”
Kuenzli said the Scarlet Course’s length and the speed of the greens are the biggest differences to courses he’s played throughout the season.
Here’s what else to watch for in this weekend’s state tournaments:
DIVISION II: Two-time defending state champion Gahanna Columbus Academy will be the heavy favorites as the Vikings return all five players from last year’s squad. Senior Ali Khan tied for second a year ago and tied for fourth in 2017, while classmate Griffin Mitchell tied for 11th last year and tied for ninth with Montgomery in 2017.
Seniors Matthew Cammeyer (tied for fourth) and Kahmar Byers (sixth) finished near the top a year ago as well.
The next four highest teams from 2018 also return in Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, Kettering Archbishop Alter, Dayton Oakwood and Galion.
DIVISION III: Columbus Wellington School, the 2018 team state champion at NorthStar, appears primed to defend its title as three of its returning players posted top-10 finishes a year ago. Senior Aidan Schumer was third at state last year, senior Garrett Thesing tied for fifth and junior Carsten Judge was seventh.
However, Brookfield (second in 2018), Canton Central Catholic (third) and Berlin Hiland (fourth) are also back for this year’s tournament. Brookfield and Canton Central Catholic return three players from last year, while Berlin Hiland returns all five.
Brookfield’s Conner Stevens was second individually in 2018 with a 3-over par 147 (74-73) and third in the 2017 tournament at Scarlet with a 3-over 147 (73-74).