GREENFIELD — As the last remaining scores rolled in Monday afternoon at Hawk’s Tail in Greenfield, Blake Barnette scanned over the sectional leader board one last time.
Shooting an 18-hole score of 80 on his home course, the New Palestine junior crunched the numbers, but his attention drifted to characters instead.
“My name is spelled wrong,” Barnette pointed out. “There’s an ‘E’ missing at the end.”
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Taking the opportunity to correct the problem with a ballpoint pen, the golfer stepped back and smiled. His day was complete.
“That’s a career low, and it came at the best time,” Barnette remarked.
Finishing with the seventh-best score in the sectional tournament and the lowest total for a competitor on a nonqualifying team, Barnette was a regional qualifier.
His performance placed him ahead of Greenfield-Central’s Clayton Long (82), a three-time regional qualifier, and Noah Mohler (85). Both will join Barnette at regional with the top three individuals at sectional advancing.
“As a junior, it means a lot, considering I’ve only had lessons for half a summer,” said Barnette, who trains at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course in Indianapolis. “Most of these guys have had lessons their whole lives. I just came out here, did my thing and kept my cool.”
More remarkably, he achieved his goal without the use of his right eye.
Losing his sight after an incident four years ago, Barnette’s rise from junior varsity golfer as a freshman to the Dragons’ No. 1 competitor this season has been inspirational, said head coach Gregg Greene.
“I would imagine things are two dimensional instead of three dimensional for him, and it would have to be that much harder to hit the golf ball and to be able to gauge distances,” Greene said. “It’s really impressive to see just how much he’s overcome.”
For Barnette, the journey, while frustrating, was a process of trial and error.
Barnette picked up the game when he was 8, but he didn’t elevate his dedication to the sport until freshman year as his potential began to surface.
Consistently posting nine-hole rounds in the low 50s three years ago, muscle memory and adaptability eventually conquered his initial doubts.
“That when I really started getting into it,” Barnette said. “That’s when I started getting new clubs, getting clubs fitted to me, started lessons and it’s worked out.”
Barnette used the first year after going blind to adjust, relying on his calm demeanor to help him learn how to brush aside perceived limitations.
“It affected me at first because my depth perception was way off,” Barnette recalled. “Now, I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve practiced nonstop to make sure I get (the ball) where I need it to be, making solid contact with the ball.
“Now, I can’t tell that I’m blind in my right eye.”
The 17-year-old cracked the varsity lineup as a sophomore last season and turned in a 100 in the Greenfield-Central Sectional as the team’s fifth golfer.
In the Dragons’ first match this spring in April, he shot a 45 in a three-way with Greenfield-Central and Whiteland at Hawk’s Tail. Barnette posted a season-best 43 twice before posting a low mark of 41 against Greenwood on May 24 at home.
In three 18-hole events, he scored an 89 at Hickory Stick during the Center Grove Invitational and carded an 88 during the Batesville Invitational at Hillcrest Country Club on May 9.
His 85 for eighth overall during the Hancock County Tournament on June 2 at Hawk’s Tail foreshadowed what was to come.
“He was striving to succeed, but he wasn’t finding it yet,” Greene said. “The last two years, though, he’s been one of the best putters I’ve had, which is phenomenal. I’ve had some really good golfers and he’s right there with his putting ability.”
The short game played a key role at sectional as he saved par 10 times by trusting his drives and finding rhythm on the greens.
“He’s handled it well. He plays his game no matter who he is playing against,” Greene said. “He just tries to stay within what he can do and what the course can give him.”
While watching former No. 1 golfer Brady Elliott, a three-time regional qualifier for the Dragons in his career, Barnette took notes last season and is preparing for the next step at The Players Club in Yorktown today at 8 a.m.
Barnette shot a 78 during a practice round at the regional site on Wednesday. According to Greene, Elliott intends to support Barnette from the gallery along with the Dragons’ friends, family and parents, Jenny and Bill.
“Sometimes we let physical limitations affect us more than they should,” Greene said. “He hasn’t let that happen.”
Marauders seeking another first
The Mt. Vernon Marauders’ sectional championship celebration mirrored their tournament approach Monday afternoon.
Reserved and collected, the group’s first-ever team title wasn’t viewed as a pinnacle, rather the beginning of something more.
“We expected to win and it was a goal,” Mt. Vernon junior Oliver Mast remarked. “It’s not like we got lucky and won. It’s an expectation of ours to win, and now that we’ve seen what we can do, state is not out of the question.”
Mast, a sectional medalist in 2014, picked up his second career honor with a 1-over par 73 at Hawk’s Tail.
As a team, the Marauders posted a 313 to snap New Castle’s sectional stranglehold after winning the sectional title the three previous years.
At the regional today, the Marauders will contend with their steepest postseason challenge yet.
Yorktown carries the field’s top sectional team score at 300 followed by Noblesville at 301 and defending regional champion Hamilton Southeastern at 302.
Cathedral and Fishers both scored 318s to advance into the Muncie Central Regional.
As a team, the Marauders have never advance to state, nor have they won the regional. Up until Monday, Mt. Vernon had never captured a sectional title, so anything is possible, according to coach Caleb Zelencik and his golfers.
“We know Players Club just as well as any other team there, so I think we can go out there and compete,” said Mast, who was a state qualifier last June. “We’re not done.”
The Marauders appear to be peaking at the right time, shooting a season-best 306 four days before sectional. Their 313 was third lowest for the team this year. In April, the Marauders scored a 312 to win the Mt. Vernon Invitational.
“They do believe they can do more than what they’ve done,” Zelencik said. “We’re just trying to keep the same level-headed approach. We want to stay within ourselves with our aggressiveness and calm and find that nice balance in the middle.”