COON RAPIDS — Brock Winter closed out a remarkable senior season with his sixth and most impressive victory to date.
Despite flying under the radar — he was ranked 21st in the Minnesota Golf Association’s individual state rankings — Winter stood tall among an impressive collection of challengers to become the Stillwater boys’ golf program’s first-ever individual state champion on Wednesday, June 12 at Bunker Hills Golf Club.
It was the third consecutive victory for the North Dakota State University recruit, who claimed medalist honors at the Suburban East Conference Tournament and followed with victories at the two-day Section 4AAA tournament and another against a stout field at state.
“I was very confident coming in,” Winter said. “It was my goal all year to win all three, the conferencee, section and state, so I was confident and I did it.”
Winter opened the tournament with a 2-under par 70 in calm and soft conditions to share the lead with Minnesota Mr. Golf recipient Connor Glynn of Waconia, Logan Hamak of Sartell-St. Stephen and Muzzy Donohue of St. Thomas Academy.
Four players were tied for fifth at even par, including Winter’s teammate Jack Whitcomb and eventual runner-up Trey Fessler of St. Michael-Albertville.
Of the foursome tied atop the leader board afte Day 1, Winter was the only one to shoot better than 75 in the second round. He carded a 1-over par 73 to finish at 143 for the tourney. Fessler, who finished more than an hour ahead of Winter, also shot an even-par 72 in the second round to finish one shot back at 144.
“It was really to play my game,” Winter said of the approach he carried into Day 2. “It was kind of my second experience being tied for the lead and I wasn’t super hyped. I kept it cool and I just wanted to play my game today and see what the result would be.”
Playing in the final group, Winter faced a tricky downhill eight-footer for par on 18, which he drained to claim the title outright. The state tourney doesn’t break individual ties and a bogey would have left Winter to share the title with Fessler.
“I didn’t want to focus on what the other players were doing. I wanted to play my own game, which I did, thankfully,” Winter said.
Before hitting his tee shot on 18, Winter asked assistant coach Kyle Scanlon was told where he stood in the standings.
“I asked Kyle what he thought and if he thought I should know,” Winter said. “He said let’s go, make a par and win it, so I kind of knew where I was after that.”
Winter hit a 4-iron down the middle, but the pressure amped up a bit after leaving his approach well short of the green.
“I had 156 coming in and quite a ways down wind,” Winter said. “I took a pitching wedge expecting some adrenaline and fly it. I hit it a little fat, but was able to get up and down to win the state tournament.”
The putt wasn’t easy, especially considering the stakes.
“I’ve never been more nervous in my life, especially on the last putt,” Winter said. “My hands were shaking and I was sweating. As soon as I saw the putt drop, everything became surreal.”
The rest of Stillwater’s lineup struggled in the windy conditions on Day 2 as the team shot 23 shots higher (299-322) to finish in eighth place at 621. Edina was the only team to break 300 on both days and the Hornets (297-298—595) posted a two-shot victory over runner-up Waconia (297-300—597) in the team standings. Opening-round leader St. Thomas Academy (292-310—602) slipped to third place.
This was the third consecutive state tournament appearance for Winter and the Ponies. Winter placed 18th as an individual his sophomore year but followed that by tying for 63rd place a year ago.
“It was a men vs. boys course today with the wind,” Ponies head coach John Scanlon said. “It was a day for the really good players, and Brock is a really good player.”
Winter bogeyed his first hole in the second round, but answered with a birdie on the par-5 fourth. He also birdied the par-5 sixth hole before a bogey on No. 8 to finish even on the front nine. He remained there until making bogey at the 13th, but made five consecutive pars to close out the round.
“On the back nine I just made as many pars as I could and just let the other partners in my group make some bogeys,” Winter said. “I just really wanted to keep it steady and see what the result would be and I’m really happy with what it is.”
Scanlon said one of the keys to Winter’s strong round on Wednesday was a par on the difficult sixth hole on the West nine.
“It was really a steady round,” Scanlon said. “If there is one shot I could get a gimme on it would be the drive on No. 6 West. He piped it down the middle about 295 yards into the wind and had a nine iron into the green. There’s out of bounds left and trees right and all three of the other guys were in the woods. If there was one shot that made a big difference that was it.”
Scanlon said Winter’s strong senior campaign did not happen by accident.
“I’ve just never have seen anyone so focused, work-ethic wise,” Scanlon said. “He’s got a lot of talent and I’ve never seen anyone work so hard.”
It was the top showing for a Stillwater player since Tom Murphy placed third in 1980, with a field that included three-time individual state champion Chris Perry of Edina West and notable players Dave Tentis, Don Berry, Kevin Cashman and Tom Dolby.
Scanlon compared Winter’s game favorably with several of the program’s more recent all-state players like Alex Beach, Hudson Carpenter, Kyle Scanlon, Drew Lynch and Parker Anderson, plus a strong cast from last year’s conference and section championship squad.
“That’s the story of Brock is the trend line,” Scanlon said. “His maturity is so much different. Brock has made leaps every year — and he was all-state two years in a row so it’s not like he was starting from scratch. We don’t have too many players who win four tournaments in a row against good competition.
“Brock has all the good things about all of them. He has the length of Drew Lynch, the talent of Hudson Carpenter, the finesse of Alex Beach and he’s got the determination of Kyle, who is a very tough competitor. I think that’s why they worked so well today on the course.”
Winter was the ring leader for a strong cast of seniors in Stillwater’s state lineup.
Jack Whitcomb (72-86—158) shot 14 shots higher in the second round, but still finished as the second finisher for the Ponies in 44th place. Ethan Scheel (78-85—163), a junior, followed in 65th place while senior Wyatt Wasko (79-86—165) finished 72nd. Sophomore Henry Lawrence (80-88—168) and senior Ike Gunderson (90-78—168) also contributed for the Ponies, who could not match their impressive 299 total on Day 1.
“You shoot that last year and you’re in third place,” Scanlon said. “It was very strong and it was just like that and strong individually. Everybody wants to get to state in any sport. I do feel like it was a really nice accomplishment getting to the final group on Day 2. We’ve never shot 299 at state that I’m aware of. I think it’s at least a 20-year school record. We’ve never shot 299 at Bunker in any tourney, must less the first round of state. Today we fell to pieces in the wind.
“It was nice to see everyone had one good day. Jack had a good day (on Tuesday) and Ike (Gunderson) had a great day today shooting 78, which is probably one of the better scores all day.”
There will be more uncertainty, but still high expectations, when the Ponies enter next season.
“The last three years have been three of the best years of Stillwater boys golf ever,” Scanlon said. “It’s not over, it’s just going to need to be refreshed now. We have some good examples of what works — and work ethic works. Getting good instruction and good help works, and just playing a lot of tournaments.”
1. Edina 297-298—595; 2. Waconia 297-300—597; 3. St. Thomas Academy 292-310—602; 4. Alexandria 302-309—611; 5. Elk River 303-315—618; 6. Lakeville South 315-304—619; 7. Maple Grove 300-320—620; 8. Stillwater 299-322—621.
Top 5 (par 72)
1. Brock Winter (Stillwater) 70-73—143; 2. Trey Fessler (St. Michael-Albertville) 72-72—144; 3. John Langlois (Lakeville South) 73-72—145; 4. Logan Hamak (Sartell-St. Stephen) 70-75—145; T5. Carl Berghult (Edina) 73-73—146 and Connor Glynn (Waconia) 70-76—146.
1. Brock Winter 70-73—143; T44. Jack Whitcomb 72-86—158; T65. Ethan Scheel 78-85—163; T72. Wyatt Wasko 79-86—165; T79. Henry Lawrence 80-88—168 and Ike Gunderson 90-78—168.