COTTAGE GROVE — Austin Lietha was already having a pretty darn good round Wednesday at The Oaks, but the senior on Columbus’ prep boys golf team wanted more.
He almost got it.
“On 18, I had about a 25-foot eagle putt that lipped out. I was really looking for that eagle,” he said. “That would have been a really nice way to finish off the day.”
It didn’t matter. All that eagle would have been was a cherry on top of the sundae, anyway, because Lietha finished at 1-over-par 72 to claim medalist honors at the Capitol Conference tournament, three strokes clear of runner-up Drew Jeffery from Cambridge.
Lietha’s round couldn’t quite carry Columbus to the team title, though, as the Cardinals came in a point ahead of Cambridge in the standings but took second to the Bluejays on Thursday by 12 strokes (312-326) to drop out of first place.
“We figured you were going to have to be around 315 — in the 3-teens — to win,” Columbus coach Bruce Zahn said of the expectation coming in. “And really we were in pretty good shape until about the last five holes, and then we had some problems — some three-putts and some bad chips — and all of a sudden we’re taking doubles. And all of a sudden we’re up to 328.
“I was thinking we were going to be right around 320, and that still wouldn’t have been good enough,” he added. “We would have had to play really well to beat them today, so my hat’s off to them. They’re a good team and they’re very deserving.”
Lietha coming in first helped ease the pain a little.
The key to his good round?
“For sure my driver,” he said. “I hit the ball really well off the tee and I just felt good — I didn’t make many mistakes off the tee today.”
Never was that more evident than on Nos. 3 and 4, back-to-back par 5s.
Lietha had opened by bogeying the par-4 first hole and par-3 second and sat at 2-over out of the gates. But the bad taste didn’t last long, as his driver had him putting for eagle on each of the next two holes and he would take advantage by making birdie on both.
“It really got me going,” he said. “I was looking to go after those two par 5s to start the day — I knew I needed to make birdie on one of them, and I ended up getting both of them.”
In fact, he went on to birdie four of the five par 5s, including after that near-eagle on No. 18.
He did exactly as he had hoped.
“Especially with as long as I hit it off the tee, I was looking to get some of those (par 5s),” he said.
Lietha made par on four of the next five after the back-to-back birdies and made the turn at 1-over 37, and then he went par-bogey-par-par-bogey before playing the final four holes at 2 under.
It all added up to a brand spankin’ new medal to add to his collection.
“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “Last year, I played well and got tied for second. We didn’t win as a team today, but to get first (as an individual), that was definitely a confidence booster.”
One he hopes will pay dividends in the upcoming WIAA postseason, which begins with Tuesday’s Division 2 regional tournament at Northern Bay in Arkdale.
“He’s playing really well, so he’s going to be I’m sure dialed in as we head into regionals and sectionals,” Zahn said of Lietha, who shot a 1-under 73 at the Cardinals’ home invite last Saturday.
Zahn doesn’t have high hopes just for Lietha, though — he thinks the whole team is knocking on the door of a trip to state.
“Hopefully we can just keep working on our game and get better, and get hot,” he said. “We’re a good team — we have to get hot to be a real good team.”
CAPITOL CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT</&hspag3>
Team scores: 1, Cambridge, 316. 2, Columbus, 328. 3, Lodi, 349. 4, Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran, 353. 5, Lake Mills, 354. 6, New Glarus, 358. 7, Montello/Belleville, 371, 8, Watertown Luther Prep, 413. 9, Wisconsin Heights, 505.
Top 5 individuals: 1, Austin Lietha, Col, 72. T2, Drew Jeffery, Camb, and Lukas Heckman, LL, 75. 4, Ryan Janson, Camb, 76. T5, Logan Furniss, Lodi, and Hayden Untz, LM, 78.
Columbus: Austin Lietha 72, Adam Zahn 82, Dan Smedema 85, Hayden Ott 87 (Jeremy Toutant 87).