The instant James Gilmore made contact with his 4-iron from 230 yards out on Tuesday afternoon, his heart soared along with his golf ball.
“I knew it was perfect, (a) high little draw,” the Madison Edgewood senior and team’s No. 1 player said. “That was probably one of the best shots I’ve had all year, and the perfect time to do it.”
Gilmore reached the green with his second shot on the 535-yard, par-5 ninth hole at University Ridge Golf Course — the final hole of the WIAA Division 2 state tournament.
He didn’t make the ensuing eagle putt, but he didn’t have to. When he rolled in a 5-footer for birdie, it was official: The Crusaders had clinched their third consecutive state championship.
“He had a little bit of adrenaline going and crushed that shot,” Edgewood coach Joe Ring said.
“Watching James come down, get it on the green, going for the eagle with a two-stroke lead, I know I’ve got full confidence in that guy and he’s got full confidence in himself,” Edgewood sophomore Ethan Arndt said.
And despite a long day filled with distractions and disruptions, Gilmore and the Crusaders made it three in a row.
Just before the midpoint of the final round of the two-day tournament, thunder joined the rain falling. That led to a delay of a little more than an hour and forced the WIAA to shorten Division 2 and 3 play to nine holes.
“That rain delay kind of irritated me, because I love the back nine out here so much,” Gilmore said.
Turns out he got along just fine with the front nine, too. Gilmore earned a crucially important birdie on No. 6 and a clinching birdie on No. 9, along with bogeys on Nos. 4, 7 and 8.
As a result, the Crusaders — who took a one-shot lead over Minocqua Lakeland into Tuesday’s round — shot a team score of 159 to finish at 464, three strokes ahead of Lakeland.
Edgerton finished third at 476, one stroke ahead of Rice Lake, as senior Joe Forsting held on to win the individual title by one stroke at even-par 108 after shooting a 5-under-par 67 on Monday.
Gilmore wasn’t the only Crusaders player to have a big final day. Junior Karl Gilmore, James’ brother and the Crusaders’ No. 2, shot 40 to finish sixth overall at 113. Senior Brody Andes shot 39 for a 116 total and a tie for seventh. Arndt shot 43 to finish at 125.
Alhough Gilmore’s play on No. 9 locked up the title, it really was won on the sixth hole. That’s when Edgewood took the lead for good with a four-shot turnaround, fueled mostly by the No. 1s.
“I sunk a 40-footer for Birdie, and the Lakeland kid (junior Kyle Bengston), he missed a short putt for double (bogey). That really changed the course and gave me a whole lot of confidence,” Gilmore said. “Up until that point, (Bengston) was pretty much untouchable, no mistakes at all.”
Forsting admitted he made a few mistakes, going 5-over par for nine holes. Playing in the final group, he said the weather delay got under his skin.
“A little bit,” he said. “There were some extra mistakes that I made that I tried to avoid. I was able to finish out (with a bogey) from the bunker on No. 9 to hold on, though.“
Rice Lake junior Simon Cuskey shot 37 to finish at 109, a stroke back of Forsting.
The rain brought a bad break for defending champion Lukas Heckmann of Lakeside Lutheran. After shooting a 38 on the front nine before the rain, he had his final nine holes called off and settled for a tie for seventh place at 116.
Columbus’ Austin Lietha shot 40 to finish 13th at 117.
In Division 3, the high school careers of three Madison Abundant Life/Country Day players came to a happy end with a second consecutive runner-up team finish. The Challengers shot 169 to finish at 504, 11 strokes behind champion Manitowoc Roncalli.
What’s more, Abundant Life senior Jack Rollins earned individual runner-up honors, shooting 36 on the back nine to finish at 112, three strokes behind Sheboygan Lutheran junior Drake Wilcox.
Boomer Zierath shot 44 to finish at 124, tied for 12th, and Blake Perkins shot 43 and finished at 126, good for 18th place.
“This year we had a lot of high hopes,” Zierath said. “(Jack) delivered, but I choked. But, like Jack was telling me a couple of minutes ago, you’re not going to achieve your best round every day.”
Individual qualifiers from the area made strong showings. New Glarus senior Matt Hach shot 42 to finish at 120, alone in seventh place, and Mineral Point junior Simon Mitchell matched the best Division 3 round Tuesday with a 36 to finish at 122, tied for ninth.
In Division 1, the all-underclassmen crew at Middleton didn’t waver throughout Tuesday’s 18-hole afternoon round, shooting 614 and holding onto a runner-up finish in the 16-team field. Defending champ Milwaukee Marquette shot 298 to win the team title with a score of 594.
“We knew it was going to be pretty tough to beat Marquette, but we were pretty sure we could get second,” said Cardinals No. 4 player Kip Sullivan, a junior who shot 76 on Tuesday to match junior Tommy Kriewaldt for team honors.
Sullivan totaled 151 to tie for 12th overall, No. 1 player Jacob Beckman, a sophomore, tied for 16th at 152 after a 79, and Kriewaldt tied for 26th at 156.
Sullivan birdied No. 4, but otherwise “just played a solid, fairways-to-greens kind of day. The other guys came through, and that’s why we finished where we did.”
The top area individual qualifier was Sun Prairie junior Mickey Keating, who shot 77 to tie for 16th at 152. Mount Horeb senior Kasen Fager, who shot 72 on Monday, finished at 154 after an 82 on Tuesday to tie for 22nd. Verona’s Austin Gaby shot 76 to tie for 39th at 159.