Ferry, Christensen preparing for state tournament
By Eric Wade
NEVADA -- "I had my, I'm not going to say doubts, because I knew they had it in them." It's easy to second guess and place doubts on the potential to achieve some of the highest goals set forth before a person, especially a high school athlete, but Nevada Tigers head golf coach Brian Leonard was able to look past those doubts and still held the highest confidence in two of his players in their quest for a bid in the Missouri Class 3 State Golf Championships. That confidence paid off in a big way as Leonard's No. 1 and No. 2 players -- junior Alex Christensen and sophomore Joseph Ferry -- both earned bids to this year's state tournament.
Both players are in their second season with the team, but are obviously in different places in their careers as players. Ferry joined the team last year as a Nevada High School freshman while off-course issues held the sophomore Christensen away from the game. Christensen played for the Tigers as a freshman and was forced to take a year off by those undisclosed issues, but came back for 2010 in a big way.
Ferry and Christensen have been battling all season long for the top spot in the Tigers' lineup, with Christensen earning the edge in that battle throughout the year by the slimmest of margins. The two have been neck-and-neck all year, but that has not really had much impact on either player's mindset, aside from pushing them to continue to support one another.
"Me and Joe have been within half a stroke the whole year," Christensen said. "You know, so it really hasn't felt any different being No. 1 compared to No. 2. I don't feel any added pressure."
The two did, however, have very differing mindsets when it came down to the potential for making the state tournament this year. While Christensen missed the cut at districts by just one stroke in 2008, Ferry tied for 10th place overall, claiming the last spot in the state tournament his freshman year.
Just one year after what some may have been tempted to call "beginner's luck" or a fluke, Ferry had the best outing of his career at the district tournament this year on the way to his second consecutive state tournament bid. "I was just hoping to qualify this time so it would get the feeling of beginner's luck off my back," he said,
Last year, Ferry went into the state tournament completely blind and unable to figure out what to expect, forcing him to sit back and rethink his approach. This year, the expectations are higher given the added experience from having been there before, but that "just go out and play" mindset is still a part of the equation.
"It was a little different this year. I mean, last year, of course, as a freshman, I wasn't expecting much. You know, just go up and play," Ferry said. "But this year, obviously I'd made it before, so I was hoping for a little bit more this year. ... I was not playing well coming into districts and so I was just hoping to shoot, obviously, as low as I could and just hope for the best this year. ... No surprises this year."
Reflecting back on last year, Ferry does admit that he has been presented with the possibilty of repeating the same feat of former Nevada Tigers golfer Tyler Gast. The two competed in the 2009 state tournament together in what was Gast's fourth appearance and Ferry used that opportunity to watch and learn from the veteran as much as possible, preparing himself for a potentially similar career.
"I guess it kind of helped me playing with (Gast) the first time, just kind of learn from him and see how to play the game at districts," Ferry said. "This year, I was kind of on my own."
Despite having that role model to look upon for confidence and composure, Ferry still battled some substantial jitters that are to be expected from a first-time state qualifier. "It was very nerve-racking and just a scary experience being there the first time," he said. "But, hopefully, this year, the nerves won't be there, hopefully, and just see how it goes."
Christensen has a similar luxury in that he has the opportunity to compete alongside a player who has been on the big stage before, but still has some of the same apprehensions that Ferry faced last year.
"I was really excited when I first found out that I qualified," Christensen said. "I'm not too scared, I'm just ready to go play and get it done and hopefully have a good outing. ... Districts was really challenging and my main goal was to make state, so I'm just really happy to be there. I'll be happy if I just go out there and play my game and not worry about shooting for first place or whatever."
Though he is in the state tournament for the first time, Christensen is far from inexperienced. He has been playing the game since he was 7 or 8 years old, and entered the season as arguably the most experienced player on the Tigers' roster.
After his performance at the district tournament as a freshman, Christensen came into the season knowing that a solid showing that may net him his first state tournament appearance was far from out of the question. He missed the cut for the state tournament in 2008 by just one stroke, giving him a marked level of confidence the second time around.
"After my freshman year, missing the cut by one stroke, I knew it was something I could do," he said.
Another factor that gives both players a definite measure of added confidence is the fact that this year's scores have seemed to be much closer that last year. No one or few players have outshined the rest of the field as they did last year, provided for much tighter competition. Despite that, however, both players have their worries heading into a course on which neither has played.
For Christensen, not only has he never played the course at Island Green Golf Club in Republic, Mo., but has yet to even see the course in person. "I've never seen the course before," he said. "Coach Leonard gave us a packet with hole by hole overview with pictures of the hole and stuff like that, so I've been looking at that."
Despite those apprehensions, both players gained a substantial confidence boost from their best performances of the season at the district tournament that gave Ferry a third place finish and Christensen a fourth, three and four strokes off the top spot, respectively.
"This is what we've been looking forward to all year. This has been our goal is to make state, so we just wanted to make sure we had a quality day out there at the golf course," Christensen said. "And it was a golf course that we've played many times before, so we knew the course well. It just clicked, I guess."