CARMEL — Will Dant looked up at the overcast sky, tilted his head in disbelief and cracked a bewildered grin as his putt stopped dead in its tracks, yet again.
Inches from the cup, Dant starred down the ball while twirling his club, another double bogey. The Mt. Vernon junior had nothing to say. His body language spoke for him as he tapped in his final shot on the par-5 third hole at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel.
Four days after carding a season-best 18-hole score of 75 to qualify for the 2016 IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals, Dant’s game turned elusive.
“I felt like coming in I knew the course very well, but the stage, you can’t picture it being any harder,” said Dant, who finished plus-23 on the par-72 state finals course. “Right off the bat I hit some good shots, but then I took some big numbers and that really hurt. I couldn’t get back in the groove once we had the delays.”
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And they were frequent Tuesday.
Initially scheduled to tee off at 8:45 a.m., heavy rain showers in the morning and lightning pushed back his start and shortly after halted the tournament for nearly five hours.
Before the first delay, Dant, who opened on the back nine, scored a par on the 10th hole, followed by a bogey and a double bogey.
Then he sat until play resumed at 3:15 p.m., just enough time for three more holes and three straight bogeys before another 48 minutes stuck in idle.
“That holds true for everyone, but golf is definitely a rhythm sport, and it’s tough to find your swing and work with it when you’re stopping for hours at a time,” Mt. Vernon head coach Caleb Zelencik said. “It definitely affected him.”
The impact was evident in his short game, “his bread and butter,” said Mt. Vernon teammate and 2015 state qualifier Oliver Mast, who walked the course with Dant throughout.
“I fought it all day,” Dant remarked on his short game. “It got away from me a lot, but I just tried to stick all the way through it and hoped for the best.”
His perseverance carried him as the first-time state competitor finally made his turn onto the front nine at 6 p.m.
Cutting his final nine-hole score by five strokes, which has been customary for the Marauders all year, Dant bounced back.
On the fourth hole, he finished with a par. A solid drive 334 yards out on the fifth hole set him up for his lone birdie.
“My drives were fine, but my iron game and short game weren’t,” Dant said. “I had some putts come up short, and before the rain those probably would go past by five feet.”
Battling soggy fairways, cross winds and inconsistently quick and slow greens, Dant posted another par on the sixth hole.
“It’s about having fun,” Dant remarked in passing. “Not much you can do but enjoy yourself.”
Ranked 94th as golfers continued to power through with the sun fading fast in the distance on Tuesday night, Dant plans to enter the state finals’ second day with the same mindset.
“I can take away the setting now. I know I’ll be more comfortable with it than what I was coming into it,” he said. “If I can keep the same drives I had and work on the other things, I know I’ll be okay. All I can do is hope for the best tomorrow and try to shoot the best I can to redeem myself.”
If anyone is capable of turning the page, it’s Dant.
Winning a three-man playoff for the final state-qualifying spot at the Muncie Central Regional with three strokes for a 1-under par, the team’s No. 2 golfer has been a catalyst for the Marauders this season.
Dant shot a 79 to help the team secure its first-ever sectional title this month and was named All-Hancock County with a 76 as the squad continued its championship streak. On three occasions this season, Dant has secured medalist honors.
“The last thing he needs to do is dwell on what he did today or what he didn’t do today,” Zelencik said. “Maybe think about some of the good things, and there were a lot of good things. He won’t see those right now, but there were. He just needs to build on that and start over tomorrow.”
2016 IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals
Will Dant, Mt. Vernon (Day 1)