Erik Thulien was smokin’. But not in a good way.
“I came off the front nine running a little hot because I missed a short birdie putt on nine,” said Appleton East’s No. 1 player as he made the turn in an underwhelming 40 on Tuesday at the WIAA Division 1 De Pere sectional at a soggy Ledgeview Golf Course.
But then the man who was on fire found paper, and that made everything all right.
“I saw that Turner (Schmidt) put up a 38 and Alan (Lemons) and Sam (Kuklinski) were playing all right,” said Thulien of when he looked at the clipboard that showed all the other scores. “I saw we were up there in the team standings, so I figured I just needed to keep playing. It took a little bit of pressure off.”
Now cool and relaxed, Thulien came home in two-under 34 and finished at two-over 74. The Patriots junior went on to take medalist honors by winning a three-hole playoff to lead East to the sectional championship with a 312 total, a whopping 20 shots better than runner-up Bay Port.
The victory moved East into the WIAA Division 1 state tournament to be played at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison on Monday and Tuesday. Also advancing out of De Pere was Austin Elsner of New London, who shot a 78 to take one of three individual spots.
“I guess, looking at perfect conditions on this course, 312 is a good number,” said East coach Kevin Reichardt. “The guys gutted it out. We played through some rain. We didn’t play that well on the front nine but they gutted it out knowing that they had to have a strong back nine and they did.”
Ledgeview plays only just more than 6,200 yards so accuracy off the tee, not distance, was most vital. That was the theme Reichardt laid out as his team drove up in a steady rain and, despite some early struggles, they managed to follow orders.
“We were a little nervous when we saw the weather but we knew we could win if we just played our game,” said Thulien. “We figured the scores wouldn’t be too low today, so just go out, try not to get frustrated and stay patient and if you put up an OK score, like low 80s, that’s fine.”
Turner Schmidt finished with a 75 for East, while Alan Lemons came home in 81 and No. 5 player Sam Kuklinski — after a 44 on the front — finished with an 82.
“These guys can play,” said Reichardt. “We’ve got a solid five players. As a coach, you’re fortunate if you get three or four players and this year I know we have five guys who can go out and score.
“Sam coming through with an 82 was huge because any time you can post that first number and it’s a legitimate keeper, that’s big. A kid shoots a 44 on the front and he could just go out there and give up. Hats off to him. I give him credit. He played well on the back nine and we really needed it.”
For Elsner, this was his third trip to the sectionals and it proved to be the charm.
“I really wanted to make it,” said the New London junior. “It’s been my goal through high school.”
Elsner said he took some advice that Shamrock Heights pro Corey Feller offered him Monday night and used it to his advantage.
“He just told me a quote from Sam Snead, about how, when he won the U.S. Open, he said he hit only six good shots all week,” said Elsner. “So I just went in thinking I don’t have to play great and I can still score.”
That proved true as Elsner overcame a double bogey on the front and a triple on the back.
“Usually I get pretty worked up,” said Elsner of his bad holes. “But today I just said, ‘Focus on the next hole and if I finish strong, I’ll probably be in the hunt.’ That’s what I was figuring, so I’m glad I finished the way I did.
“I was happy with the way I handled myself, definitely.”
DE PERE SECTIONAL
At Ledgeview Golf Course, De Pere (36-36-72)
APPLETON EAST 312, BAY PORT 332, PULASKI 335, GREEN BAY PREBLE 343, WISCONSIN RAPIDS 348, WAUPACA 356, GREEN BAY SOUTHWEST 356, SHAWANO 386
Medalist: Erik Thulien, Appleton East, 74.
Individual qualifiers: Austin Elsner, New London, 78; Owen Nowicki PU 78; Joe Benbow WR 79.
Appleton East: Turner Schmidt 75, Alan Lemons 81, Sam Kuklinski 82.
Waupaca: Shaun Plunkett 85, Ben Stone 86, Turner Kelly 89, Logan Walters 96.
Appleton West: Isaiah Harmison 87.
Hortonville: Bennett Lippert 91.
New London: Tyler Fenske 103.
— Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232, or email@example.com; On Twitter @PCMikeW