‘Army of one’ golfer represents McLouth on greens
The positives that came with Martin Lucas' decision to enroll at McLouth High when he relocated to northeast Kansas before the 2006-07 school year were too strong to ignore.
Despite that his family chose to live in Lawrence, Lucas, a high school junior, liked the thought of attending a smaller school more in line with those he already had experienced during his upbringing in tiny burgs such as Mammoth Springs, Ark., and Neosho, Mo. And because his dad, Phillip Thomas, was hired as the new technology administrator for the McLouth school district, it meant some extra family time during the hour-long round-trip commute.
The only drawback was McLouth's lack of a high school golf team, a minor detail Lucas took upon himself to rectify.
"I made mention to Mr. Pierce ... about what would it take to make one," said Lucas about discussions he initiated last fall with McLouth activities director Tom Pierce. "We both decided to make the push for one and the school board approved, and now we are McLouth golf, 'an army of one.'"
Even in a sport in which individual accomplishment is more often the focal point than the collective efforts of a team, Lucas' situation is unique. The plan approved by the McLouth school board didn't include any salary for a golf coach, or any substantial financial outlay to fund a team. Instead, it was more of simple green light for Lucas -- and any other players who might be interested -- to represent McLouth as an official school golf team for the first time since a program was briefly in place in the 1980s.
"I was thrilled when it passed through," Lucas said. "That was a big step, just being able to play for the school. That's a huge thrill for me, and a big honor, too."
However, it turned out he was the only student who signed on this spring. While Pierce was willing to hold tryouts for anyone interested in joining the Bulldogs' newest athletic entity, Lucas came face to face with reality that, at a small 3A school where baseball and track and field also are offered, there weren't any other aspiring golfers ready to blaze a trail.
"I really wish there were some others that did come out," Lucas said.
Instead, it's made for a solitary journey this spring, with no coach following him on the course offering swing tips, and no teammates to joke around with in the clubhouse following the completion of a round, or to pick him up if he's having a bad day. The onus has fallen almost completely on Lucas to craft himself into a competitive high school golfer, a seemingly heavy burden for a former baseball player who only picked up the game three years ago.
While Pierce handles the administrative aspects of McLouth''s team -- entering Lucas in tournaments, taking care of the necessary paperwork, and driving him to competitions in such distant locales as Horton, Holton and Atchison -- the actual cultivating of the 17-year-old's game rests entirely upon his shoulders and his family's budget.
During the fall and winter, Lucas would haul milk crates full of golf balls to an empty lot just off Clinton Parkway, hitting hundreds of short wedges. Some days, he would only take a putter, resisting the temptation to club shots in favor of rolling putts for four hours at a time.
Once spring arrived, Lucas changed his regimen to a more holistic approach, rotating between practice rounds at Eagle Bend Golf Course, driving range and putting green sessions at Alvamar Golf Club and fitness workouts at the Lawrence Athletic Club.
The result has been a batch of solid results come tournament time. Lucas shot a 92 to earn a medal in his first competition of the season at Horton, and appeared well on his way to beating that mark in his last outing at Atchison, when he was forced to settle for a 43 after rain cut short his round after nine holes.
"It's just been a joy to take him to the meets and watch the interaction between him and the other golfers," Pierce said. "To me, that's what sports is all about. It's the friendships you make and the relationships you get going."
Lucas had hopes of nabbing one of five individual state berths at Monday's 3A regional at Spring Creek Golf Course in Seneca, he wasn't able to reach that milestone. Lucas shot a 98, but failed to nab an indivdual berth.
"The goal is for me, for this year, is just to compete," Lucas said earlier this month. "Just to be competitive at the meets where hopefully the program will continue and add on."