At one point this spring, Jack Johnson had the best scoring average in the state of Minnesota. Dating back to April 29, in nine rounds, the Chaska junior is averaging 72 strokes per 18 holes.
Johnson, a team-high 51 birdies, despite not playing in two tournament last week in Brainerd, has four sub-par rounds.
In Section 2AAA, those type of scores are needed to help a team be in contention on Day Two. And those type of scores are almost the norm for top players advancing to state.
In other words, Section 2AAA at Ridges at Sand Creek near Jordan, with No. 1 Waconia, No. 3 Minnetonka and No. 7 Chaska, along with Eden Prairie at No. 14, is stacked.
"We know how great the competition is in our section, so we have no pressure on us at all. To just go out and play our game," Johnson said.
Gunnar Broin, 12th at state as a sophomore for Minnetonka last season, knows the competition he and the Skippers will face. Despite posting a team score of 292 in the first round, Waconia upset the Skippers by five strokes for the section title.
It's not Minnetonka versus Waconia or Chaska. It's not Broin versus the Wildcats' Connor Glynn. It's Broin versus Broin.
"I think my mindset heading into sections is to be as patient as can be. It’s gonna be raining and it’s going to be a five-plus hour round so staying focused and calm throughout the entire round is key," Broin said. "There are a ton of good teams too in our section, the hardest section in the state in my opinion. You can’t take anything for granted and you have to be playing your best to in order to qualify on the team and/or individual side."
"I feel absolutely great. I really do. I am much more confident in my ability to hit all the shots required at Ridges, which plays directly into my favor," Johnson said. "Historically I have consistently played well on this track, which includes a 3-under 69 there earlier this month."
Johnson qualified for the Class 3A State Tournament in 2016, one of four eighth graders in field; the only non-team participant.
Thus far, it's been Johnson's only trip to Bunker Hills. A few near-misses have left him on the outside as a freshman and sophomore.
"I do think that the last couple years I have almost 'expected' to make it to state, so I did not put enough effort in prior to our section tournament. This year, I’ve been much more focused on the process and improving each day, with the goal of having another shot at state," Johnson said.
Johnson, who participated in a Drive, Chip and Putt competition at Augusta National in 2017 on Masters Weekend, said the difference this season has been tweaks in his play, and tweaks on the mental side of things.
"Certainly the last couple of years I had not had my best stuff during the high school season, which was quite frustrating to me. I made some changes this off-season, including a new swing coach, which has helped me to gain a new level of confidence in my ability," Johnson said. "I also have been working on not placing any extra pressure on myself to play well, which has produced some great results for me so far this season."
Broin was also in the 2016 state field as an eighth grader, a champion with Minnetonka. His second-day score of 76 was one of four scores used in the title-clinching performance.
Broin has finished 14th as a freshman and 12th as a sophomore at state the last two seasons. Minnetonka was runner-up as a team to Wayzata in 2017.
"The past couple years have been awesome, playing with older guys and learning and listening to them has definitely helped my game mature more than anything," Broin said. "I used to be making stupid mistakes on every hole and worrying about doing well. But now I see what they were saying, I just don’t have to worry about anything and just play my game and use my strengths to my advantage.
"I now see myself in some of those roles that guys were in a couple years ago and with a young team like we are this year and next, I need to step up and lead this team like the others did. I’m excited to see what happens and can’t wait to get out there!" he added.
The Section 2AAA Tournament, underway with the first 18 holes on Wednesday, May 29, concludes with the top four teams and all players within five strokes of the next five individuals on Monday, June 3.
"Ridges is not a long bombers course too, and there are few holes where you can actually be aggressive on, so converting short putts for birdie and par are big things there and making the most out of your opportunities when you can like on the par 5s is going to be most important," Broin said.
Broin didn't hit any putts on the front nine at Pioneer Creek on May 14 in a Lake Conference match versus Hopkins. He hit some, an understatement, on the back nine.
A final nine-hole score of 29 left Broin with a believed-to-be state tying record of 63. Top-ranked Caleb VanArragon of Blaine and Glynn each have had scores of 63 in recent years.
"It was definitely one of the funniest rounds of my life. I made four putts of 20 feet or more including a couple of 45-footers just to start the back nine. And I just kept that momentum going. I birdied my first six holes on the back. I just couldn’t miss and I couldn’t do anything about it. If you ask my playing competitors, they would say it was laughable," Broin said.
The number could have been lower. He was one stroke off a course-record 62. Broin missed birdie putts within 10 feet on holes 16 and 18.
"(That) really makes me want that round back even more! All in all it was an awesome day and I just was having fun and I was as care free as possible. That was the biggest part of it," he said.