With a senior grooming a group of youngsters, the Palmyra boys golf team is making a second straight trip to the Class 2 state championships.
Two-time state finalist Laithan Sublette was the only familiar face on the Palmyra boys golf team entering this season.
Noah Wilson and Lane Hammond inked college scholarships after helping Sublette guide the Panthers to a Class 2 state runner-up trophy last spring. Landon Merkel and Zach Burch also graduated from the Panthers state team.
The key departures left Palmyra coach Marty Smyser with four question marks on this year's squad.
Junior Ragar McKinney, sophomore Mason Burch and freshmen Brady Shively and Brock Bollin have stepped up to fill those holes for the Panthers.
And with Sublette grooming the youngsters, the Panthers are making a second straight appearance in the Class 2 state championships.
“All of those guys have worked very hard throughout the year and shown lots of improvements in their game and scores,” Smyser said of his four first-year varsity players. “I am really proud of everything they have done to this point, and I am excited to see how they perform at state.”
McKinney, who just missed out on a top-five spot on the Panthers roster last season, mentioned despite the experience this year, state was always the goal.
“We were on edge a lot of the season and were unsure at times, but we all have been working hard all year and it’s really paying off for us now,” the junior said.
In addition to the work they put in on the course every day, all four players work with golf guru Mark Christensen — owner of Christensen Golf Academy in Quincy.
McKinney and Burch go over on Sundays, while Bollin and Shively visit with Christensen on Thursdays.
“He helps us a lot,” Shively said. “I can go over there and then come back over here (on the course) and work on what he’s taught me.”
Shively mentioned he and the other three newbies have learned a lot from Sublette this year as well.
“He is always out here working on his putting,” the freshman said. “A lot of times when I leave my grandma’s house in the morning I will drive by and see Laithan’s car out here and see him on the putting green or hitting balls.”
McKinney added, “He is always working on his short game. He is the best in the area, and it’s because he is always working on some part of his game. He is like a role model to all of us.”
Burch mentioned Sublette helped him with a new grip.
“I have been through three different putting grips this year, and he finally helped me decide on the last one,” the sophomore said of the Panthers top golfer. “And since I switched to what he recommended, I have been putting a lot better.”
Although Sublette didn’t help, Bollin also underwent a drastic change this year that has helped his scoring.
“I made a change in irons about midseason,” the freshman said. “I didn’t start off the year very good, but the change has helped me post some lower scores here of late.”
Bollin and Shively both have a certain number in mind as their goal over the 36-hole state tournament, while McKinney and Burch have a different approach.
“I would like to shoot under 90,” Bollin said.
Shively, who was the medalist at the South Shelby Tournament earlier this season, mentioned he is aiming for a low-to-mid 80s score and would like “to beat the other guys” in his group.
McKinney mentioned he is taking the same approach as he has all season.
“I just have to go out there and shoot my game,” the junior said. “I think if we all can do that and not try and do too much, we will be just fine and we can be up there.”
Said Burch, “I am just going to go out there and hit some golf balls. You only get to experience something like this once or maybe twice, so I am just going to try and make the most of it.”
With only Sublette graduating this year, Bollin hopes the program can continue to build from last year and this year.
“I know Laithan has helped us out a lot this year, but I think we can come back next year with the same expectations,” Bollin said. “I think we can come back and still do good.”
The freshman also pointed out there is still business to take care of this season.
“We have won a lot of tournaments this year and it’s been a great season, but we are not finished yet,” he said.
The Class 2 state championships begin Monday morning at Meadow Lake Country Club in New Bloomfield.
Sublette will tee off at 8 a.m. followed by McKinney (9:03), Burch (9:12), Shively (9:21) and Bollin (9:30).
The two-day tournament will finish up on Tuesday.