Matt Barkett tried to give away his putter on one hole and begged a sports writer to take it off his hands at the conclusion of Thursday’s Ohio Cardinal Conference golf tournament at Mohican Hills.
His grip on the league’s Player of the Year plaque was much tighter.
Overtaking Ashland freshman Beau Bayerl in the MVP battle on the final day of the league season is a memory the lone senior in Lexington’s lineup will want to hang on to forever.
That and helping Lex repeat as OCC champ.
With junior Charles Mikelait firing a 78, backed by Barkett’s 79, the Minutemen overcame a shaky front side to win by three strokes over Wooster and five strokes over chief rival Ashland to cap a second straight perfect OCC season that included a 7-0 mark in league play.
“I didn’t make a single putt all day … outside of one bomb on (the 553-yard) No. 15,” Barkett said, “and it was an impossible 60-foot downhill putt with my eyes closed.”
The eye-opener was the way all of the Minutemen rallied on the back side to keep Ashland and Wooster at bay.
Sophomores Kaleb Smith and Spencer Stierhoff shot 80 and 82, respectively, and fellow soph Joey Zahn — who joined Barkett and Mikelait on the all-league first team — just missed figuring in the scoring with an 83. That was one stroke better than another Lex 10th-grader, Tommy Barkett, Matt’s brother.
The older Barkett didn’t mind finishing one stroke behind Mikelait.
“It’s about time he beat me,” Barkett said. “I’ve been on his butt all week. He has so much potential; he’s such a good putter. I think this will be his break-through. He’s going to start playing well. He and Kaleb (Smith), who has been our low man several times, have been our catalysts.
“These young kids are 10 times better than me. Kaleb has a better swing and Spencer has a better all-around game. Right now it’s all mental for these guys.”
Barkett said the key for Lex will be having its collective head on straight for the Division I sectionals Tuesday after basically failing to show up last year.
“Obviously it’s a huge team goal just to play good in the post-season,” said Mikelait, who had a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 3, a 382-yard, par 4, “but it’s also nice to play good in the conference. This wasn’t a primary goal, but it was an important objective we were trying to reach.
“You come in (to this tournament) just wanting to score solid like we have all year and try to come out with the championship.”
Although Lex doesn’t formally name team captains, coach Ryan Zahn said Matt Barkett has flourished in that role, adding his value to the team can not be measured simply by his scores.
“Matt’s been everything you want in a senior,” Zahn said. “He’s done a good job of talking to his teammates, and hearing it from them is better than hearing it from me.”
Zahn admitted the weight of heavy expectations, most of them self-imposed, might have gotten to his young team at the outset Thursday. Suddenly, it feels like you’re swinging a telephone pole instead of a driver.
“You’ve got to play the golf course, execute the gameplan and let the chips fall where they will and not worry about what everyone else is doing,” Zahn said. “All six players did better on the second nine, which is nice to see. They gutted it out.
“Even though all of these guys (except Tommy Barkett) lettered last year, we’re still a young team. The more time you face your nerves, the better you are with them. Having the kind of success we had on the back end can only build confidence.”
The Minutemen host their own invitational next Friday at Pebble Creek, where the field will include defending Division III state champion Crestview and league archrival Ashland, whose Michael Woode was medalist Thursday with a 75.
Woode probably didn’t see that coming after taking an 11 on “unlucky” No. 13 — his seventh hole of the tournament.
“I was even (par) going into that hole, but hit my first two shots out of bounds and hit my third shot into the woods. Then it took two shots to get out of the woods,” the Ashland senior said. “The next three holes I had good looks at birdies, even though I didn’t make them.”
Woode chipped in for birdie from five feet off the green on No. 17, a 203-yard par 3, and built off that momentum, adding birdies at Nos. 4, 6 and 8.
“It was a good confidence-booster,” he said.
Woode, Mikelait and Matt Barkett were among a group of only six golfers to break 80. The others were Wooster’s Tom Huettner (76), Orrville’s Tyler Abel (77) and West Holmes’ Andrew Schlabach (79).
Huettner and Schlabach were league first-teamers, along with the Ashland duo of Woode and Bayerl (81).
Clear Fork’s James Smith and Madison’s Blaine Smith shot matching 83s to lead their respective teams, while Dylan Dudley led Mansfield Senior with a 104.
The Minutemen have now bested Ashland four times this season — three times in tournaments by a collective 12 strokes and by two strokes in their OCC dual. So what’s it going to take to top Lex when they meet again in the Minuteman Invitational and four days later in the sectionals?
“We all have to play to our potential,” Woode said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”