APPLE VALLEY – Drew Salyers has one box left to check.
The East Knox senior has won conference, sectional and district championships. He’s competed with the nation’s best amateur golfers in the American Junior Golf Association. He recently committed to Indiana University to continue his career next fall.
But he hasn’t won a high school state title. He came close in 2017 before missing the cut last year. This weekend, he’ll have one final opportunity.
“It feels great,” said Salyers, reflecting on his district championship less than two weeks ago. “You know, the goal is to win state and it feels great to have a chance to accomplish that goal.”
Salyers shot a 69 to win the central district title on Oct. 2. After starting out two-over-par through his first three holes, the senior battled back to break even at the midway point. He held steady on the back nine, scoring five birdies en route to a three-stroke victory.
Salyers will head into this weekend’s tournament with the lowest district score in the state. Berlin Hiland’s Carter Mishler and Dylan Kaufman both shot 71s, and several others scored 72s. None broke the 70-stroke mark.
While Salyers may be the favorite coming in, he's keeping his expectations for this weekend's state experience manageable. Anything can happen on a golf course, he warned.
“I’m just going to do my best and hopefully I come out on top,” Salyers said with a smile.
Salyers will tee off Friday at 10:50 a.m. He’ll be grouped on day one with two other district champions: Broc Jordan of Latham Western and Josh Winhusen of Middletown Christian. 72 Div. III golfers will compete for the state title over two days at the Ohio State University Scarlet Course.
If Salyers emerges victorious, he will likely be East Knox High School’s first state champion. Both athletic director Aaron White and golf coach Alan Keesee believe he will be the first, as there are no banners or trophy cases in the school to suggest otherwise.
White couldn’t confirm whether or not there has been a state champion from East Knox in years past – “there’s been a lot of turnover in this office, a lot of history lost over the years” – but he conceded it is likely Salyers would be alone with such a distinction.
“We’ve had state competitors,” said Keesee, who mentioned recent qualifiers like cross country legend Emilie Schworm and shot put phenom Jake Gibson. “To my knowledge, we do not have a winner.”
Salyers is another recent qualifier. He made it to state his sophomore year, but fell victim to inexperience on day one. Salyers shot an 85 after winning districts with a 69.
“He hit seven or eight bunkers on the first day,” Keesee recalled. “I don’t think he had to play a shot out of a bunker all year long, and he gets seven or eight that first day.”
Instead of throwing in the towel, however, Salyers made it known he would not go away quietly. He refocused on Saturday and posted the lowest individual score of the day – a 70 – storming back to finish 10th overall and earn second-team all-state recognition.
Keesee, who began coaching at East Knox three years ago, said Salyers made a name for himself that weekend.
“It was just an incredible two days to watch,” he said.
As a junior, Salyers missed the state cut by just three strokes. Worthington Christian’s Tyler Jones (who now golfs for Div. I Marshall University) shot a 68 in the central district tournament, and Salyers tied for second with a 71. In the central district, only one individual golfer and one team make it into the state tournament.
“I just didn’t play my best,” Salyers recalled. “I shot even and Tyler Jones played really good and he won the district, and he went on to win state. But this year I just played a little better and moved on.”
Salyers said he’s played at the OSU Scarlet Course once since his first trip to state. It’s a challenging course, he admitted – “Jack Nicklaus redesigned it, so it’s tough” – and the key this weekend will be playing conservatively. “Gotta stay out of those bunkers,” he said. Keesee agreed.
“If you do anything east and west on Scarlet, you’re going to be in trouble,” Keesee said. “It’s just not very forgiving if you don’t hit your fairways. The greens are such that there’s something always around them… short for most cases – straight and short – is your best out for most of the holes.”
Salyers will rely on his talent and trademark composure to keep him steady this weekend. Those qualities, mixed with his competitiveness, are what Keesee believes separates the senior.
“He’s kind of Cool-Hand-Luke for the most part. He just has a temperament about him that’s not too... he doesn’t get fazed by a whole lot,” Keesee said. “When he does, he’s more mad at himself. He doesn’t like blown opportunities.”
For Salyers, this weekend is an opportunity – his last – to make history for East Knox. While he seemed thrilled about getting another crack at the state title, he also stressed that his goals this weekend would be simple.
“Just to do my best and just try not to make too many mistakes,” he said. “That’s pretty much it.”
Keesee said watching Salyers’ career at East Knox has been “incredible,” as he’s gone from local starling to scholarship athlete. This weekend will be a shot at redemption, he said.
“I know he was real disappointed last year in not getting in, and he was about as close as close could be. So I think we all wish this could be his third trip, but we’re excited for him, as far as this being his second trip back,” Keesee said. “I think he’s peaking at the right time, right now, to go down to Scarlet and make a name for himself.”