CARMEL — Oddly enough, when Will Dant bogeyed his first hole Wednesday morning, he knew his day was going to be different.
Opening with a par on the 10th hole during the first round of the 2016 IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals on Tuesday, everything unwound for the Mt. Vernon junior.
This time, however, the back nine switched from brutal to inspiring despite temperatures spiking well above 80 degrees after a brief rain delay.
Overcoming the heat and lingering doubt, Dant sliced his second round score by nine strokes through his first nine holes compared to the first at Prairie View Golf Club, keeping his cool from beginning to end.
“I thought maybe it was a turn of events for me,” Dant remarked on his first hole. “I figured it could only get better from here.”
His prognostication skills matched his composure.
Dant finished with a 10-over par 82, which catapulted him up the leaderboard into a tie for 91st overall with Bedford North Lawrence’s Ben Conte to conclude the state finals.
“He showed what he’s made of and that’s no quit and a lot of fight,” Mt. Vernon head coach Caleb Zelencik said. “And he had some creativeness, hitting off the cart path.”
His highlight shot materialized on the 17th hole, his eighth of the second round.
“I had fanned my second shot to the right into the hazard and there was a chance I would have to drop into some heather and it was really thick,” Dant explained. “I wouldn’t get the shot I had, so I just dropped on the cart path and said why not?”
The move paid off. Using his wedge to chip off the asphalt, he dropped the ball a few feet from the cup and split two pars with the double bogey with a clean putt to the elation of his teammates, who followed his every move.
Senior Jacob Ault captured Dant’s swing on video and celebrated the feat by proudly sharing the redeeming swing on social media. The slick recovery emphasized Dant’s determination to conquer the course that bit him with a 23-over par first round.
“It didn’t do much to the wedge, which was good, and it ended up making a heck of a bogey,” Dant said.
A par on 16, followed by another on 18 brought him in at 41 heading into the turn where his redemption accelerated. Scorching six of nine holes for pars, Dant posted eight overall, a stark contract from three on Tuesday.
“Today, I put the ball more in play. I still had some shots get away, but for the most part they were still in play, so that helped,” Dant said.
A pick me up from his teammates didn’t hurt, either.
Ault, Xavier Dunham and Max Heitman, watching from the gallery, left the course briefly for a midday milkshake treat to combat the heat before Dant headed to the front nine. Jokingly, Dant told them to bring him one.
“They brought it to me (on the seventh hole), and I immediately birdied the same hole where they met me,” Dant laughed while holding his half melted vanilla milkshake. “I thought it was funny because I didn’t think they would actually do it.”
He posted a par on the eighth hole after his second birdie of the day before carding another 41. His score on the front nine was a four stroke improvement from his 45 on Tuesday.
On the first day, Dant struggled to find a rhythm, resulting in a frustrating eight one-shot bogeys, two triples, three doubles and one four-stroke over-par hole.
In the finale, he had eight bogeys total.
“The putter was working today because I had a lot of par saves. That helped make a seven-footer for par like three out nine holes on the back,” Dant said.
A medalist for the 2016 sectional champion Marauders three times this season, Dant’s turnaround was a true representation of his ability, Zelencik said.
At regional, he shot a season-best 75 and marked off nearly everything on his checklist at each step of the state tournament, including becoming a first-time state qualifier.
“It’s been a goal (to reach state) ever since Oliver (Mast) was here last year. I came into the winter and worked hard with the team. (State) was the main goal and I set specific goals for each big tournament,” Dant said. “I made those goals and it came up to state. I’m a little tired after today, but I’m here. It’s a great tired.”
Mast tied for 54th at state a year ago as a sophomore at 15-over par 159 for his cumulative score. Dant was 13 strokes better from Day 1 to 2 to end at 33-over par.
“Being here watching is a lot different than being here playing, especially being here for the first time playing. He was really tight yesterday,” Zelencik said. “I don’t want to say it’s old hat, but the second day, he knew what to expect. He settled into his round, was more relaxed and it helped playing the same order.”
Only carrying a 5-over par score into the front nine kept Dant focused and at ease after sitting at plus-14 at the same point the day before.
“You could see his attitude shift right there,” Zelencik said. “He was smiling a little bit and looser. Getting through those first three holes even was a big accomplishment for him.
“He started with the bogey on 10, but it wasn’t a terrible bogey, and he came right back with a really nice birdie on 11, jarred it and put it within three feet. Then he parred 12, which was huge after the double (bogey) yesterday.”
The best is yet to come, though, said Dant, who shared high-fives with Ault, Dunham, Heitman and Mast after tapping in his final putt.
Returning four of the team’s five golfers next season, Dant and Mast will carry state finals experience while incoming juniors Dunham and Heitman elevated their games during the Marauders’ near team state qualification at the Muncie Central Regional with a 309.
According to Zelencik, who has guided the program for seven years, the next logical step isn’t reaching state as a team but winning the program’s first regional.
“This year we were off by two (strokes at regional). We lose Jacob Ault, which is big because he was a senior leader, but we have a lot coming back. We should get through regional, if not win,” he said. “We’re going to do the same we did before over the winter and work hard. It’s just going to be fun.
“I can’t even picture a different group of guys being on the team with me then what we have. They’re all great and they buy me milkshakes.”
2016 IHSAA Boys Golf State Finals
At Prairie View Golf Course
Will Dant, Mt. Vernon