The Avon Lake junior had just hooked his drive into the heather and almost out of bounds on the first playoff hole at Thursday’s Division I district golf tournament at Red Hawk Run Golf Course in Findlay. If that wasn’t bad enough, now he couldn’t find his ball.
In a battle with Ashland sophomore Josh Brooks — whose tee shot had settled nicely in the fairway — for the second and final state-qualifying berth after shooting a 2-over 74, Aussem had five minutes to find his ball or likely see his hopes of making it to state for a third straight season disappear along with his tee shot.
But with about 30 seconds left, he got the luck he needed and the ball was found. From there, he let his talent take over, blasting a 9-iron out of the tall grass to within 5 feet of the green.
When his chip shot for birdie just missed, he couldn’t be upset. His tap-in par halved the hole and after both players took par at the second hole, Aussem won the playoff with a par on the third extra hole after Brooks chunked a shot.
“After I hit that tee shot, I thought I was done,” Aussem said of his opening playoff drive. “I got really lucky.”
The rest of the players from Lorain County didn’t have Aussem’s luck or skill, at least on this day. The Shoremen, who had high hopes of making it to state for a second straight season as a team, fell considerably short of that goal as their 328 was good only for seventh, 11 shots off the qualifying pace.
Fremont Ross won with a 316, behind Brandon Hoelzer’s 72. That was one stroke better than runner-up Findlay, which got a 74 from Spencer Shoemaker. Norwalk’s Dustin Lieber grabbed the other individual qualifying spot with a 72.
As for local individuals in the field, Olmsted Falls’ Alex Torres shot 80, Amherst’s Mike Campana had 84 and Avon’s Joe Clifton and North Ridgeville’s Mike Musci struggled in with 102s.
“Sometimes you don’t have your best day when you need it,” Avon Lake coach Amy Manco said of her team coming up short of its goal. “All the guys said, ‘We didn’t do what we had to do, but it was still a good season.’”
Andrew Lombardi, the team’s lone senior and one of its most consistent players, shot an 83 for only his second round in the 80s all season. After playing a strong front nine, he stumbled coming home. He was 2 over when he stepped on the 11th tee, but he took a triple bogey there and never recovered.
Zach Sharb added an 83 and Austin Kryc an 88. Clay Sharb shot 91.
Aussem started OK, going par, bogey, par. But his game started to click after he made a clutch at at the fourth.
He made birdie on the par-3 fifth after hitting a “perfect” 9-iron that just missed being a hole-in-one. He made it two birdies in a row when he nailed a wedge to within 2 feet at the sixth, then rolled in a 20-foot putt on eight for another birdie. He turned at 2-under 34 only to suffer his own triple bogey at the 11th.
He was 1 over when he reached the 16th and heard, erroneously, that he needed to shoot even par to advance to state. After a pair of pars, he figured he still needed a birdie on 18. Facing a 20-footer for birdie, he went after it aggressively, sending it 5 feet past the hole and missed the comeback putt.
But when he got in the clubhouse, he found out 74 was good enough to make a playoff. Ironically, he won a four-hole playoff on the same course as a freshman to make state.
With two trips to state already under his belt — Manco believes he’s the first player at the school to qualify three times — he’s expecting to be in the hunt next week on Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
“I expect to do go down there and have a shot,” he said. “There are some really good golfers there, but if I put together two good days, I think I can win. I’m not saying I will win, but I’m not going to fo fown there to not try to win.”
Contact Kevin Aprile at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.