Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Eating is among the things boys like to do.
So when a couple people offered the St. Mary's golf team free dinners if they shot a team score of less than 300, it seemed to be worthwhile motivation.
Then, when some of the Crusaders read in Wednesday's paper that another school, South Eugene, broke the barrier with a 299 on Tuesday, they were further inspired.
But no one foresaw St. Mary's doing what it did in the Phoenix Invitational at Centennial Golf Club on Wednesday.
With Dylan Wu leading the way with a 6-under-par 66 and Tom Thorndike following along with a 72 — the best score of his life — St. Mary's rolled in with a 294.
"It was a surprise to all of us," said Thorndike, like Wu a sophomore. "I was not expecting to shoot even par and my teammates to shoot in the mid to high 70s. It was a good moment. There were a lot of high fives. It was pretty astonishing to think we broke 300."
But it can't be considered a fluke, either, for the defending Class 3A/2A/1A state champions. On Monday, they shot 304 at Pacific Dunes in Bandon. Before that, they had a 306.
In addition to Wu and Thorndike, Will Street shot 77 on Wednesday and Brandon Chun 79. The fifth player, Mark Lynn, was close behind with an 80, but only the top four scores are used in team totals.
Street is a junior, Lynn a sophomore and Chun a freshman.
St. Mary's coach Ryan Allred and his father, Gene, who works as a swing coach with the Crusaders, couldn't remember a local team going as low in recent years but figured if any did, it would have been one of the squads from Phoenix, which captured the Class 4A state championship in 2007 and was runner-up in 2006 and '08.
Indeed, the Pirates' record is 286, achieved in 2008 at Running Y Ranch Resort in Klamath Falls.
Still, the St. Mary's effort isn't anything to scoff at.
In state tournaments at all levels, no team has gone as low as 294 since 2008, when 6A Canby and 5A West Albany did so.
"It's really low," said Ryan Allred. "That would win some college tournaments, or at least be competitive in them."
The score reset the school record from earlier this week. Before this season, the low was 316, established on Day 2 of the state tournament last year.
The 3A/2A/1A state-tournament record for 18 holes is 306, by Westside Christian in 2008, and it could be in jeopardy based on the way St. Mary's is playing. The Crusaders won last year with a two-day score of 649 at Trysting Tree in Corvallis.
Those who owe for dinners are Gene Allred and Fred Chun, Brandon's father, who owns a local restaurant.
Ryan Allred said his father has done a nice job working with the players. In addition to Ryan, who played high school golf, Gene taught son Jason, who has played professionally for a decade and is now on the Nationwide Tour.
"He's just a student of the game and he loves it," Ryan said of his father. "He has a passion for golf. He's found a balance between being technical and just going out and playing. That's a hard balance to find. With golf, you get in your own head a lot of the time."
Four of the five players also work with teaching professional Ed Fisher at Rogue Valley Country Club.
Thorndike heeded the Allreds' advice to stay focused on the shot at hand and to avoid thinking about what a good round he was having.
"I'm definitely that person who thinks ahead," he said. "I tried not to add the scores up in my head.
"I was just working on my tempo, kept my cool and did my routine in perfect order and it came out solid."
He played the back nine in 2 under, making three birdies, including a chip-in at No. 15. It was the first time he played nine holes under par.
The tournament was played at 6,900 yards.
"Everything came together," said Ryan Allred. "I played out there, and they had it set up from the purple tees and the pin positions were tough. They had the pins tucked. Dylan played an absolutely phenomenal round, and Tom was amazing. Will and Brandon were about average."
Wu's scoring average is 69.8. He's had only one round over par, and that was a 1-over 72 at Pacific Dunes. Street and Thorndike are averaging in the mid 70s.
Wu, who played in the shadow of Rogue River's Kevin Murphy much of last year, has emerged as the top area player this spring.
Murphy broke his left ankle in December and was on the mend until just before the golf season began. He was second with a 69 on Wednesday.
Wu made seven birdies and a bogey, including two-putt birdies at the par-5 second and 16th holes en route to matching his lowest competitive round. It also broke his own school record of 68, set last year at Eagle Point.
He missed only two fairways — his first two after starting at No. 9 in a shot-gun format — and had all facets of his game working.
"This year, especially in the high school golf season, I've been playing pretty well," said Wu. "I just feel more prepared and feel like my game's better. I've been pretty precise with my wedges. My swing feels a lot more solid and I feel like I'm hitting the ball a lot more solid."
Wu has added about 20 yards to his driver and at least that to his 3-wood.
"He's putting in the time," said Allred. "He's the last guy to leave the course, and he's very disciplined in his practice. When he gets a lesson, he really works hard at it."
The Crusader players all compete in junior golf in the summer, said Allred, and Wu plays in American Junior Golf Association tournaments as well.
"This group of guys has really been motivated," said Allred. "They're driving each other."
And they might not have peaked.
"I think we can go lower," said Allred. "They've been improving every week, and they believe they can go lower. That's the key thing. They've all gotten a taste of the mid to low 70s, so they know they can do it."
The next tournament for the team is the District 6 championships, which will be on its home course, Rogue Valley Country Club, May 7-8.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com