AUBURN — Last Thursday at Swan Lake Golf Club in Plymouth, Bailey Clark sat in a crouched position near the edge of the ninth green with his putter resting on his left shoulder. He started to toss his ball back and forth in his hands. He looked cool, calm and collected. But more importantly, he appeared confident.
The University of Saint Francis commit knew he was about to end his round right around where he had planned and that he had a good chance to keep his season alive for one more tournament.
Clark went on to par the hole after his missed a birdie putt but still finished with a 1-over par 73 at the Plymouth Regional to advance to the IHSAA State Finals, which begins Tuesday at 8 a.m. at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel. Clark is in the first group to tee off from the 10th hole.
He is the first state qualifier for the DeKalb boys since Kaleb Holt was the individual medalist with a 70 in the Homestead Regional at Chestnut Hills in 2005. Additionally, Clark is the first boys golfer to advance from the KPC coverage area since 2013 when Michael Sharp of East Noble tied for second, also with a 70, in the Warsaw Regional at Stonehenge.
Sharp tied for seventh at the state finals with a two-day total of 142, and Holt missed the cut in the state finals. But Clark won't have to worry about that since the whole field is guaranteed to play both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Clark is a man of few words, letting his play on the course do the talking. Just as poised as he looked sitting near the green last Thursday, he walks around on and off the course confidently with his chest slightly puffed out.
He can show off this self-confidence on the course because he has been the mark of consistency for the Barons this season in 18-hole tournaments. Going into the state finals, he has the fourth lowest 18-hole average in school history. This season, he has an 18-hole average of 75.9 with only two rounds of 80 or higher and the rest being in the low 70s.
At the 2018 Warsaw Regional at Stonehenge, Clark described his round of 86 as "awful." So this time around he knew he had a chance to do better at a different course using his strengths.
“He took advantage of his length and so forth. He played real smart again and had some great drives,” DeKalb coach Jon Schenk said. “(He) putted really well, didn’t get in trouble with the putting at all and got up and down when he needed to. That’s what you have do to. You have to scramble when you miss the greens, and he did a good job of it. That’s how you get to a 73.”
As golfers get deeper in the postseason, the length of the course can cause problems and Prairie View is as long as they come on the high school stage. The course is almost 7,000 yards, measuring 6,991 for Tuesday and Wednesday with two par 5s that near 600 yards.
On the Black Course at Swan Lake, which measured 7,131 yards, Clark had no problem with the course's length, finishing with one birdie and one bogey on the front nine and scoring one double bogey and a birdie on the back. He parred 14 of the 18 holes.
Schenk has complimented Clark’s length on the course for two seasons now, including before the season when he signed to play for Saint Francis back in February.
“He’s really got the length that, on the longer courses in college, is going to help him out quite a bit. He’s the longest on the team, as far as length goes,” Schenk said.
Schenk described Prairie View as a “monster” last Thursday, giving insight to just how difficult it can play.
Clark had a practice round on the course on Monday and felt confident that he would only need to use his driver on three or four holes. Schenk said the course received three inches of rain on Sunday and played a little soft during the practice round, but added it could become faster if it dries out, making the greens more challenging if that's the case.
Live hole-by-hole scoring for Clark will be available using the BirdieFire app or going to IHSAA.org.