Dawson Wills was part of four consecutive Metro West Conference boys golf titles as a member of Chaska High School. He earned all-league honors three times, honorable mention his first season.
Turns out he was just scratching the surface on his ability on the golf course.
“I’d say I’ve added a lot of mental maturity. I knew in high school that was kind of what was the difference. I would always ask instructors what I could do. I talked to my dad (Darryl) about it. In the end, it was me that had to figure it out at the right moment,” Wills said.
He remembers a round last summer where he was hitting the ball really well, yet at the end of the round his score was an 84. That was it.
“I began writing down what I was thinking after every round. Being productive about every time I played, not just with my game, but the mental part. Before my goal was always shooting for par, now I’m looking for more. I’m playing to shoot lower numbers,” Wills said.
Things started to click last summer right after his first season at Division II Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Wills registered a stroke average of 76.14 in seven events.
His “best mental day” last summer resulted in a bogey-free round, a score of 65. He began constructing practices outside of his normal rounds to improve his game.
Having played in all six rounds in the 2019-20 season before COVID-19 shut down the season, Wills recorded a stroke average of 73.50, placing third at the 21st annual Northern State University Golf Classic with a five-under par score of 208.
“Seeing my freshman scoring average to now, it feels like a whole different game for me. I really look at it in a different way. I really feel like I found out how to compete at a high level day in and day out even when I’m not playing great,” Wills said.
After making the cut at both the Minnesota State Open and MGA Amateur Championship in 2019, Wills had one more chance to qualify for the 2020 State Open June 30 at The Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo.
Six final spots with 59 golfers in the field.
Eight holes in, Wills was four-over par, a triple bogey on the sixth hole.
“Before, I would have never recovered. I’d miss a short putt and four holes later I was still thinking about it. I’ve learned how to gather myself and stay in the present,” Wills said.
An eagle on No. 9 and four birdies on the backside, including on No. 18, put Wills in a four-man playoff with a two-under score of 70.
The first hole, David Morgan, Connor Schubring, and Wills all made par. Former Holy Family Catholic star Lincoln Cizek, who earned a spot in the playoff with birdies on the final two holes, finished with a bogey as the odd man out.
“He had a really hard lip out. I felt horrible for him,” Wills said of Cizek.
With the qualification, Wills will return to The Royal July 7-9 for the Minnesota State Open. All players compete in 36 holes over the first two days with players under the cut returning for Day Three for the final 18 holes.
Local players include Eden Prairie’s Ty and Matt Armstrong, Hazeltine National pro Mike Barge, Minnesota Senior Showcase champion Gunnar Broin of Chanhassen via Minnetonka High school, Chaska Class of 2020 graduate Jack Johnson, former Chaska star and current Gopher Lincoln Johnson and 2019 defending MGA Amateur champion Clay Kucera of Chaska.
Others are former state champion Ben Sigel of Minnetonka, Eric Chiles of Chaska Town Course, former NHL Stanley Cup champion Ben Clymer of Hazeltine National, Minnetonka High School’s Ian Meyer and Jacob Pedersen, Chanhassen’s Danny Renner, The Classic at Madden pro Bennett Smed of Holy Family Catholic, and Holy Family Catholic’s Tyler Muschewske of Chanhassen.
Jack Johnson won a State Open qualifier June 24 at Ridges at Sand Creek, posting a four-under par score of 68 to edge Minnetonka alumni Jacob Pedersen by one stroke.
“This year, more than any other year, you’re seeing some really big name college players that just want to play in tournaments and these are really good ones. You’ve got Frankie Capan, Ben Sigel, big college names. ... Sure, it’s fun competing against Clay, Lincoln, other guys, but I’m out there playing for myself. I want to be in that final group on the final day,” Wills said.
STATE OPEN DREAM
Wills enters the tournament with one goal, to win. But he knows if that’s what he thinks about on the course
“If I’m on the eighth tee, the only thing I’m thinking about is hitting the fairway,” Wills said.
The State Open, which brings together both amateurs and professionals, should produce low scores.
“I was out there (Sunday) and they told me they’re not going to make the greens a lot faster, and they weren’t that fast to begin with, so there should be a lot of birdie opportunities,” Wills said.
One thing is for sure this week, it’s going to be hot on the course. Wills said his MVP is caddie Josh Hazelton, a high school buddy.