This Indiana city championship qualifier had it all — a 10-way tie, geographic controversy and a guy who ran to buy a hat

·4 min read

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Something interesting always happens during the Evansville Men’s City Golf Tournament. This year’s event was no exception.

A total of 173 golfers competed for 63 spots during Saturday’s qualifying round. It marks the most entrants for the tournament since 2008 and the first time two courses were required since 2016.

There were low scores at the two sites — Fendrich and Helfrich Hills. Plenty of suspense with an 8-man playoff (which could have been 10). Even drama for the final spot in the main event. It’s all a day in the life of city golf qualifying.

Mitchell Johnson and Matthew Godsey paced the field at 6-under 64. Johnson, an Evansville North High School grad, tallied an impressive 10 birdies including four straight to end the day.

Godsey, a junior at Brescia University in Owensboro, overcame a bogey on his first hole – the par-4 10th – to play flawless golf the rest of the day. Godsey finished with seven birdies.

“My main goal was to make the cut,” said Godsey. “As soon as I started getting it rolling, I wanted to see how low I could go. It just all came together on one day. I’ve been practicing a lot to get on the skill level I want to be at.”

Kolten Hedges tees off on the 2nd hole during the Evansville Men’s City Golf Tournament qualifying round at Fendrich Golf Course in Evansville, Ind., Saturday morning, July 2, 2022. (Photo by MaCabe Brown/Evansville Courier and Press)

One player, James Schroeder, has been intertwined with this tournament and one of the qualifier’s two sites — Helfrich Hills Golf Club, a course that opened in 1923 and was designed by architect Tom Bendelow — for years.

Schroeder won the Dan Scism Scholarship in 1995. When he was 14, his family moved across from the Michael D. Helfrich House which is located behind the 10th green.

Nothing in his mind topped this year. His round only played a small part in it. Schroeder claimed the final qualifying spot from the Helfrich group with a par in a one-hole playoff against Stephen Smith.

His caddie? His 10-year-old son Will. His oldest, Zach, had the second-lowest round at Helfrich to also qualify.

“I love this tournament and never qualified,” said James Schroeder. “This year, my boys played for the first time. (To qualify) is such a blessing, but it probably means more because of them.”

Zach Schroeder, a rising junior at nearby Mater Dei, was one of the few to find success at Helfrich. He posted a 4-over 75 with three birdies to finish one shot behind Tyler Raben for the low round. His younger brother Matthew, an incoming freshman, shot an 87 to miss the cut by only four shots.

“Zach shot a great score,” said his father. “He was a four-putt away from winning the qualifier. It’s really cool to have us all together today. To get that last spot was a cherry on top.”

And the final spots into the tournament – the first round will be played July 16 – required extra holes at Fendrich. This is where the 8-man playoff occurred, plus some controversy.

Ten players finished at 4-over 74 with five spots on the line. However, two weren’t present at the 10th tee when their names were called. Those five advancing spots were then determined in one hole.

Tom Gayhart, Steve Wassmer, Dustin Ross, Lucas Zielinski and Don Neel each made par on the first playoff hole. Four of them scrambled with Gayhart the only player to hit the green. The best shot belonged to Zielinski.

After hitting his second shot long, he hit a perfect pitch over a hill that nearly rolled into the cup. Zielinski, who said he raced back for the playoff and needed to buy a hat in the pro shop, couldn’t see the pin.

“I don’t want (that shot) over again,” said Zielinski. “That’s one of the best shots in my life probably. We thought 74 would be 100% in. We ate lunch and were not planning on coming back to play golf.”

Players often scramble to get back in time for the playoff (two obviously didn’t make it), and Zielinski said he didn’t have a belt and needed to purchase the hat.

“I wasn’t going to play without a hat,” he said.

Mason Royalty birdied the third playoff hole to earn what was originally an alternate position. However, he received a spot in the tournament when it was determined a player who shot better than 74 did not meet the primary residence eligibility requirement.

The tournament rules state entries are open to male amateur players who are residents of Vanderburgh, Posey, Warrick or Gibson counties.

This is all part of the fun at a local qualifier. And the city tournament has yet to begin. Action will be held on July 16-17 at Fendrich Golf Course, July 23 at Rolling Hills Country Club, and the final round will take place on July 24 at Evansville Country Club.

Follow Evansville Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.

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