Drew Salyers

East Knox senior Drew Salyers tees off on Friday afternoon at Ohio State University's Scarlet Course.

COLUMBUS – Friday just wasn’t Drew Salyers’ day.

Drives that usually stayed on the fairway rolled behind trees. Approach shots struggled to find the green at times. Putts were hit-or-miss on the dry, bouncy course.

Salyers, an East Knox senior competing in his second Div. III state golf tournament, became visibly frustrated at times. He slapped his knee. He looked to the sky. He banged his club on the grass.

And yet, despite all this, he found himself just four strokes back from first place after day one.

Salyers shot a 75 on Friday, finishing three over par. He will head into Saturday’s final round tied for fifth place with Wellington’s Aidan Schumer. The leader after day one is Brookfield senior Justin Atkinson, who shot a one-under-par 71.

Salyers struggled, but so did everyone else. Of the 72 golfers competing, Atkinson was the only golfer under-par on Friday.

“It certainly affected him, but I think it affected everyone,” East Knox coach Alan Keesee said of the conditions at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course. “You know, no excuses, but the greens were aerated a couple weeks ago and they are bouncy. It seemed to have affected [Salyers] a lot more today than yesterday in our practice round, but I thought it affected the other two gentlemen in our group as well.”

Salyers, who came into this year’s state meet with the lowest district score (69) of any competitor, started hot with a birdie on the first hole. But he would proceed to bogey the next two holes, setting the tone for a day where nothing came easy.

“I just think it’s bad luck,” Keesee said. “I just think he’s putting it in the right spot, it just would roll a little bit farther and he’d go off the fairway and be behind a tree and have to have an interesting shot on his approach or something like that. It was just a game of inches with him today.”

No hole symbolized Salyers’ frustrating first day better than the 14th.

It appeared he was finally going to catch a break after dropping a beautiful drive onto the middle of the fairway, 130 yards from the par-five hole. He proceeded to land a chip shot on the green, putting him in position to birdie or eagle, which would allow him to gain back one or two crucial strokes heading down the stretch.

But his next two putts would miss, the second rimming out, and Salyers would have to settle for par.

“It was just a bad break,” Keesee said. “We were thinking birdie for sure and when that just lipped out, that’s a tough one to come back from.”

Close misses like this would take a toll on any golfer, Keesee said, and Salyers was no exception.

“He had a couple of near-miss birdies and near-miss eagles that I’m sure he wished he had [back], like all of us. And I think those weigh a little bit on you, too, because when they’re that close and not in, it’s almost as crushing [as] if you swatted it off the green,” Keesee said. “That’s part of the mental side of golf that makes this game fun.”

Still, Salyers stayed solid throughout the round. He was frustrated, sure, but he never folded. He birdied only one hole Friday, but he made par on 13 others. Keesee commended Salyers’ ability to stay north-south on a course that punishes east-west movement.

Salyers improved by one stroke from the front nine to the back nine (he shot a 38, then a 37), and he stayed within arms length of Atkinson. The East Knox senior will look to make up ground Saturday, and based on his history, it appears he’s primed to do so.

Salyers’ shining moment with the American Junior Golf Association this summer came on a comeback like this. He trailed by three strokes after day one of the prestigious Justin Thomas Junior Championship before closing the gap. Salyers shot a 66 on the tournament’s final day to win by four strokes.

And then there was his first state appearance, two years ago, when he followed up an 85-stroke round one performance with a 70-stroke round two. After landing seven shots in the bunker on Friday, Salyers refocused and recorded the tournament’s lowest score on Saturday. He finished tied for 10th place, good enough to earn second-team all-state honors.

Keesee seemed confident on Friday that Salyers would regroup and come back ready to wreak havoc the next day.

“I think he’ll go home, he’ll decompress, and I think he’ll come back tomorrow and play his game,” Keesee said. “If he’s on the green in regulation, great things are going to happen.”

Besides, he’s in a far better position this time around than in his last state trip. “A 75’s not an 85,” Keesee cracked.

“I think when he decompresses, he’s going to realize that. And if he can put a day two together like he did two years ago, it’s going to be a happy ending to a two-day tournament,” the third-year coach said. “He’s in a much better position for better things this year.”

Salyers will tee off at 10:50 a.m. Saturday. Those unable to make it to Columbus can follow his progress here.

Be a member. Power our sports coverage.

Sports reporters need great teammates, and that's you. If local high school sports reporting is important to you, purchase a Source membership for as low as $4.99 per month. You'll be the MVP of our sports department.

Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.