Gilmour Academy junior Alex Swinarski wasn’t putting around.
The Lancer linksters’ No. 2-man sank a pair of birdies, 14 pars and two bogeys to fire an even-72 strokes during his first round of the boys Division III state golf championship on Friday at North Star Golf Club in Sunbury, just north of Columbus.
After finishing his opening round in 17th during last year’s big dance, Swinarski was tied atop the leaderboard with Canton Central Catholic senior Alex Milavickas on Friday night.
“I was surprised, because I’ve never been to that stage before in a tournament, being tied for first,” Swinarski said. “So, that was kind of a cool experience to be in. I was really focused. I don’t know why, but something kind of clicked in my head.
“I was just super focused, hitting every shot I wanted to, shaping the ball I wanted to, making all of the putts I needed to make.”
As a team, Gilmour came out piping hot with 314 strokes from its low-four shooters. Senior Liam Ottaway fired a 79, junior Jack Popovich shot an 81 and freshman Parker Barrett carded an 82, while junior Harry Rogers provided an 88 for a fifth score.
With four returners from last year’s state team that finished sixth, the 2020 Lancers rested in third place at the midpoint of the tournament. They trailed runner-up Berlin Hiland by just one stroke, while they owned a 24-stroke cushion on fourth-place Mogadore.
“First off, Alex just played phenomenally that first day. It was huge that he played that well,” said Ottaway, who was also on Gilmour’s state runner-up team as a freshman in 2017.
“So, we were feeling pretty good,” Ottaway said. “We were one shot behind second, and we thought we didn’t play our best. We thought we could go out on Saturday and play even better.”
It doesn’t get too much better than shooting par, however, as Swinarski was just one of four guys, out of 72 golfers in the field, to play even on either day of the tournament.
In particular, Swinarski teed off on the back nine the first day and shot a 1-under-par 35 thanks to a birdie on the par-3 17th hole.
“I hit a pretty good tee shot,” Swinarski said. “It was a little left of the hole, so I think it was about a 15-footer I hit where I just read the break perfectly to make the putt.
“At that point, I was pretty relaxed just because I felt more comfortable with my swing. I could play aggressive. I could play conservative. Basically, I could do whatever I want when I’m playing that well.”
Making the turn to the front nine, Swinarski went on to bogey the second and fifth holes – both par 4s – but added another birdie to his card on the par-3 fourth hole to finish even.
Then during his second round on Saturday, Swinarski shot a 78 with one birdie, 12 pars, three bogeys and a pair of double-bogeys.
“On Saturday, it was basically two bad holes that cost me,” he said. “Otherwise, I probably would have shot another 72. It was on nine and 12 where I just hit bad tee shots, where it cost me because it put me in bad positions for my second shot, and then leading up to the third shot and the fourth shot.”
On the par-4 ninth hole, Swinarski found himself buried in the rough next to a bunker after his second shot had a bad kick, he said.
And on the par-4 12th hole, his tee shot veered to the right, where there’s a little downslope that makes for a difficult second shot.
But the Lancer junior got his confidence back with a birdie on the par-4 13th hole, thanks to an approach shot that landed about 20 feet short of a back pin.
“That was another one where I just read the putt perfectly, put a good pace on it and it went in,” Swinarski said. “That was huge, honestly, because I just doubled two holes within the span of four hours. So, that was nice getting the birdie back, trying to bounce back and give myself shot at winning individually.”
While Swinarski wasn’t the medalist, he did finish fifth in the state to earn first-team all-Ohio honors after taking 33rd last year.
Two years ago, as a freshman, Swinarski said he shot in the 100s almost every tournament. Last year, he was regularly in the mid-80s.
“And then this year I’m shooting in the mid-70s,” he said. “So, that was huge for me. Hard work pays off.”
While Swinarski finished 6-over-par on day two of the state tournament, he wasn’t the only Lancer adding strokes to his card.
In fact, the Lancers ended up shooting 326 strokes as a team on Saturday – with only Ottaway bettering his score to 74 strokes and Rogers holding steady at 88 strokes – to finish with a two-day tally of 640 strokes for a solid third-place showing.
“The second day, there’s always more pressure,” Ottaway said. “You start thinking about where you might finish as an individual and where you might finish at a team. Things just start to build up.”
Nonetheless, Ottaway handled that pressure with three birdies on the front nine during Saturday’s portion of the tournament.
Specifically, the four-year Lancer veteran birdied the par-5 third hole after what was his blow-up hole with a triple-bogey the previous day.
“That’s just golf,” Ottaway said. “You can go from a triple to a birdie in one day without really changing that much. Honestly, the first two shots I hit on Friday were the same I hit on Saturday. And then I just ended up hitting a really good wedge shot there and making a good putt.
“That’s just golf. It happens. You’ve got to forget about it. And I did that by coming back the second day and not letting that hole get in my head.”
Ottaway said the course conditions played similar both days. It was more so his swing and his experience that allowed him to play 5 strokes better on Saturday.
“The first day, I was battling a pretty bad pull with my irons, and I had a couple of holes that really cost me,” Ottaway said. “Then the second day, I got it figured out with my swing and got out to a really good start with birdies on three and four and another one on nine to shoot 2-under on the front.”
Ottaway said the back nine at North Star is quite a bit more challenging, and he couldn’t keep his momentum going with four bogeys to conclude his round at 2-over-par.
Nonetheless, Ottaway finished his career with his best individual state showing, taking eighth overall for second-team all-Ohio honors.
“I felt good about coming back my last round of my career and turning it around by 5 (strokes) and finishing in the top 10,” he said. “That made me happy. Just spending the weekend with all the guys at my last state tournament was special no matter how I played or how we played. I’m just thankful we got the opportunity.”
While Gilmour’s team scorecard included Swinarski, 150 strokes, Ottaway, 153, Popovich, 167, and Rogers, 176, the Lancers could have exchanged any of those individual efforts with Barrett’s 178 and still finished third as a team.