Five-over-par with four holes to play at the Loyola Academy Sectional golf tournament Monday, Jay Wilson knew he was on his way to a career-best round.
But the Evanston senior couldn’t quite close the deal when it came to securing a berth in the Class 3A Illinois High School Association state finals.
Wilson faltered just slightly down the stretch and his final score of 81 fell four shots short of earning an at-large position as a state qualifier.
At a stage in the tournament series where there’s no margin for error, Wilson did score a par on the final hole of his high school career. But it was a case of too little, too late.
Evanston’s other sectional qualifiers, junior Matthew Barbato and senior Jordan Wallace, also ended their seasons with respective scores of 86 and 88.
Wilson played the steadiest 18 holes of his career — at one point notching a birdie and 5 consecutive pars — at Glencoe Golf Club. But the chance to keep playing started slipping away on the No. 6 hole, starting with an errant shot off the tee.
Ironically, Wilson had lived in the fairway up until that point after carding a 3-over-par 39 over his first 9 holes.
“I punched it into the fairway after that errant tee shot, but I had a tough (20 foot) putt and I ended up 3-putting the hole,” Wilson said. “That hole took a lot out of me. I ended up getting bogeys on the next two holes, what should have been two easy pars for me, and then I just went bombs away and let it all out and parred that last hole.
“I think I just got mentally tired after those first 14 holes. I felt good about the start I got off to and 9-over-par is nothing to be ashamed of. I ended up shooting career-lows (counting the regional effort of 82) in my last two tournaments. Things were looking good — but then the back nine got me.
“On that sixth hole I got a little lazy with my tee shot and that’s what cost me. The shots started getting harder and harder, and the pressure really built on me from there.”
“I couldn’t be any prouder of Jay,” praised Evanston coach Jed Curtis. “He hit the fairways, he hit the greens and he just kept it simple today. Sometimes, as we like to say, boring golf is great golf.
“When he started out by missing a 3-foot putt on No. 10 today I thought uh-oh, where does he go from here? But he settled in with a birdie after that and played really solid golf. He seemed really focused on every shot, and it was just fun for me to watch him playing like that.
“That tee shot on No. 6 wasn’t really terrible, but I think knowing where he was put the pressure on him. He came back and hit a phenomenal bunker shot on No. 7 (on his second shot), but then his putt just lipped out. Overall, Jay did a great job of staying in the moment. He really played with a great attitude today and he left nothing out there.”
Wilson needed a 77 to join five players who eventually were involved in a playoff for the at-large berths after Glenbrook South (298), Loyola Academy (298) and New Trier (301) had nailed down the three team qualifying spots.
Barbato fired a 44-42-86 in his second straight sectional appearance, but wasn’t able to advance.
“I knew I had to be in the mid-to-low 70s today and that I had to get after 100 percent right from the first hole,” said the ETHS junior. “I started out OK. But my big problem was hitting wedges inside of 90 yards. Those are shots I should be hitting in close, but I missed a lot of greens. That’s not where my misses are typically.
“The course today was definitely more difficult than the regional and the pin placements were tough. It’s doubly frustrating for me to not get out of the sectional for the second year in a row, but this experience is something to build on.”
Wallace’s final round for the Wildkits was a 45-43-88 that featured way too many putts, if you ask the senior standout.
“I couldn’t really rely on my putting today like I usually do,” Wallace said. “I think it’s because I didn’t take enough time to make precise reads, and then I over-thought things on those difficult downhill putts. With the pin placements, I didn’t have a single straight-on putt all day. They definitely made things more difficult with the placements.
“I’m sad that my season is ending, but I still had fun out there today. I’m glad I got this far.”
“Jordan got off to a rough start, but I’m proud of the way he fought and never gave up,” added Curtis.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.