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Herman top medalist in qualifier

By BRETT MARSHALL

Special to The Hays Daily News

GARDEN CITY -- Both Trey Herman of Hays and Alex Zuzelski of Syracuse have played enough competitive golf at The Golf Club at Southwind and Buffalo Dunes Golf Course, both located in Garden City, to know that if you play simply expect that the wind will blow during the tournament.

Wednesday was no exception at Southwind, as 35 golfers vied for 14 spots to advance to next month's Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship at Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills.

And while Herman and Zuzelski arrived at their scores of even-par 71 (Herman) and 8-over-par 79 (Zuzelski), the pair of collegiate golfers accomplished the same goal. Play well enough to qualify and make it to the state's premier amateur tournament.

Herman, a junior-to-be at Fort Hays State University and a former Hays High School standout, was the only player to match par on the windswept, 6,935-yard, layout, thus earning medalist honors.

"Honestly, if you come here to play it's gonna be tough and you expect the wind," said Herman, who was three shots in front of Levi Bone of Dodge City and Caleb Haight of Wichita. "I've played it (qualifier) the last three years and so when you sign up, you just prepare to play in the wind."

For Herman, the strategy was simple, but not always easily implemented -- hit fairways and greens and putt well.

"If you hit greens, you're going to score because the greens are so smooth and you can hit the putts true," Herman said.

The Hays golfer made the turn through nine holes at even-par 36 thanks to a birdie on the par-4 first, another at the difficult par-4 seventh and then a chip-in from behind the ninth green.

"The birdie at No. 7 was a big turning point," Herman said. "It's a tight driving hole with water down the left and then you have to hit over it and into the wind. I hit 3-wood off the tee, had 160 in and hit a knockdown 6-iron to 10 feet and made it. That got me into a good place and was able to turn it around."

Herman did have a bit of an up-and-down back nine, where he birdied the 11th and 13th, bogeyed the 12th and 14th and then played even-par golf into the clubhouse. The pivotal hole was the par-5 15th, notoriously one of the more difficult holes to manage when the wind is blowing out of the south (which it was, 21-28 mph and gusting to 30).

"I got the driver in play, laid up with a 7-iron and then had a knockdown pitching wedge and two putted," Herman said of the 15th hole. "From there, the final three holes were downwind and I knew I was in good shape."

Herman has yet to qualify for match play at the state amateur, which becomes his next goal in late July.

For Zuzelski, a left-hander who is heading into his senior year at Baker University where he plays on the school's golf team, the 79 was more of a survival than anything and he was happy to earn one of the qualifying spots.

"I didn't do as good as I'd like," said Zuzelski, one of the top high school golfers in southwest Kansas when he graduated from Syracuse in 2010. He followed that with two years at Dodge City Community College before transferring to Baker where he competed his junior season.

"My game is a work in progress right now," Zuzelski said. "Definitely, I've improved my short game. That's what saved me today. Like usual, Southwind is tough. Trying to hit shots under pressure with the wind blowing, you've just got to have confidence in yourself."

Zuzelski's nine-hole totals were 41 on the front and a 38 on the back. There were no birdies in his round, and his start was ominous with double bogeys at the first and second holes.

"From there, I just tried to keep myself calm and told myself that there were a lot of holes left," Zuzelski said. "I was able to finish well and am just happy to qualify."

A year ago, Zuzelski reached match play at the state am when it was played at Sand Creek Station in Newton.

But he lost to eventual winner Kyle Smell in the first round. Now, his goal is to not only make match play, but win a match, too.

"Definitely going with a different, more confident attitude than in the past," Zuzelski said.

Other local and area golfers to qualify were Brady Buxman of Ulysses (78) and Juan Ollarzabal Jr. of Garden City (79).

The Kansas Amateur is scheduled for July 22 to 28.