AMES, Iowa – The Lake Mills Bulldogs were excited to play the golf season last year, and more importantly, the Bulldogs were ecstatic to make the 2A tournament. This year, the mood around the Bulldogs team felt different. Were they excited to go out and compete each day? Yes, of course, but the Bulldogs had a goal in mind, and no one would take that away from them. The Bulldogs accomplished that goal here Tuesday afternoon. “Yeah, absolutely, that was the number one goal,” said first-year head coach Travis Laudner. “We tried to not get ahead of ourselves by checking off the boxes first – the kids grinded all year for this.”
Monday night, Lake Mills went to bed not only on top of the team leaderboard, but senior Bennett Berger went to bed as the 18-hole individual leader. One of the few achievements Berger hasn’t reached in the past four years at Lake Mills is winnings a state title. That thought is now a reality, and the dream has come true – Berger is the champion. “Yeah, I’m not going to lie, this has been my goal, and I’m glad I could knock it out,” Berger said with a glowing smile. “I told my dad and someone else in the shop one night that I would win a state champion.”
Bennett fired a two-day total of 150 to claim the crown over Newman Catholic’s Tim Castle. After the first ten holes today, Castle was 2-strokes up on Berger, after Berger started the day two strokes ahead of Castle. He came back to birdie two of the first four holes on the back nine, and Castle bogeyed number 11 – giving Bennett a 1-stroke lead. “When you play 36-holes, you’re going to have a bad stretch of golf”, said Berger – the Bulldog was determined. “I just told myself I (have to) grow up a little bit – man up, and finish as I can.” Berger would never relinquish the lead playing nearly flawless. He recorded a par on numbers 14 and 15, and the point at which the weight swung completely in Berger’s favor was a massive 12-foot par putt on hole 16. “I caught myself thinking about it a couple of times, but I just told myself to focus on this shot. Sometimes throughout this year, I’ve thought about the score, and it’s cost me the win.” Berger didn’t know it, but a par on 17 and 18 was more than he would need to win the title. Castle played two holes behind Berger’s group, recorded boggy holes 14, 15, and 16 to fall four back. With just two holes remaining and Berger in the clubhouse with his +8 150. Castle would need to make up four strokes in the last two holes. Castle got one back on 17, making a nearly 20-foot putt for birdie, but was still trailing by three with one hole left. Castle’s tee shot from 18 played but wasn’t an ace, and Berger officially became the champion. A couple of shots later, Castle recorded a boggy on 18 to end his two-day round at +12 154. “What an amazing career; the kid is as hard of a worker as I’ve ever seen,” Laudner said.
Bennett’s dad, Bob, was a state champion at Rockwell-Swaledale in 1989. Now, writing his own story, Berger joins the legacy as a champion of the sport they love. “He can’t say nothing anymore – it’s been the one thing he’s held above me – we’re tied now,” Berger joked as Bob looked on at the interview.
Berger is also just the second Bulldog to win an individual title. Jay Thompson won the Class 2A individual medalists in 1994, firing a 153.
Barring a large crash from the Bulldogs, following Tuesday’s first nine holes, it felt as if Lake Mills had just about zipped up the title. They stretched their 1-stroke lead to 8-strokes, and hopes were high. Lake Mills had never won a team state golf championship, and the school has only won a single team championship in school history – the 2000 wrestling dual team title. That’s all changed now – they’re golf champions.
With his fifth-place medal, Lake Mills sophomore Garrett Ham’s tournament ended on a higher note than it started. Ham fired a +15 88 to open the tournament on Monday. That score had him outside the top-10 beginning the second day. Today, Ham closed the tournament shooting a +6 77 to move him to +21 for the tournament – good enough for a medal and, more importantly, helping Lake Mills run away with the team title. “That’s what makes you a good golfer. You have to have short-term memory and forget that last shot”, Ham said after his second round. Denton King wasn’t too far behind the top two, he finished T-13th with a +31 173. Alex Mannes was tied for 35th with a +50 192, and Austin Stene was +107 shooting a two-day total of 249.
“(Bennett and Garrett) have fed off each other all year long, frankly for the past two years,” Laudner said. “I couldn’t be prouder for them and the entire team.” Ham said, looking up to a guy like Bennett has been fun, “He’s a guy that is shooting better than you, and you can chase him.” Berger noted, “some of the meets we play, he’s my biggest competitor. It all starts with the work we put in before the season, playing ‘closest to the hole’ on the simulator for who buys dinner”.
With Ham returning as an upperclassman and the team only losing Berger, the Bulldogs will remain a threat. As for Ham, he has two years to become Lake Mills’ third champion, and to watch Berger win today, Ham – without question wants to step into those shoes. “I’m trying to think about what Bennett has done – individual title and give my team a chance to win a team title.” Ham also wants to become the leader that Bennett is for the team, “We need to teach the younger guys to stay mentally focused.”
As for how they’re feeling, both Berger and Ham responded, “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.” Berger added he thinks it will be a great feeling when it finally does. “It’s going to feel good for a very long time,” said Berger.
As for what’s next for Berger, he’s going to take Wednesday off before he prepares for his next tournament – this weekend.
Lake Mills 673
East Buchanan, Winthrop 689
North Butler 717
English Valley, North English 727
Fremont-Mills, Tabor 739
Don Bosco Gilbertville 771