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New boys golf coach focusing on basics

Tadd Usher knows what it takes to be a successful golfer.

The new head coach of the Park Rapids boys golf team is counting on his experience playing competitive golf to help his golfers find success on the links.

In high school, Usher qualified for the state Class A tournament twice as a member of the United North Central boys golf team. Usher finished sixth as a junior in 1999 and 12th as a senior in 2000 at the state tournament.

As an 18-year-old, Usher attended the Mundus Institute School of Golf Course Management in Phoenix, AZ and turned pro, playing on the Gateway Tour.

Usher then returned to the Park Rapids area, regained his amateur status and won five straight Men's Club Championships at Headwaters Country Club from 2005-2009. Usher set the course record at HCC with a 61 in 2008 and also holds the course record at Edgewood in Fargo with a 64 set last summer.

Now Usher, who served as Park Rapids assistant golf coach the last couple of seasons, is hoping to transfer his knowledge of the game to an eager group of young golfers.

"I'm really excited about taking over this program," said Usher, who is an assistant golf professional and the assistant manager at HCC. "We're going back to the basics and emphasizing the short game. We're a young team, but we have a lot of experience. I think people will be surprised by how well we're going to do."

Leading the Panthers this season are four golfers who played in the majority of the matches last spring: junior Ian Johnson and sophomores Bailey Mueller, Dustin Bethel and Jamie Stewart.

Johnson led the Panthers with an 86.7 18-hole scoring average. Johnson shot a 78 at Bears Den and had a pair of 82s at Staples and HCC before ending the season with an 84 at the Mid-State Conference meet, a 97 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and a 90 at the North Subsection 8AA tournament.

Mueller was second on the team with an 88.5 average with lows of 81 at Warroad and 82 to earn all-conference honorable mention honors at the Mid-State meet at HCC. Mueller ended his season by carding a 92 at the subsection meet.

Bethel was third on the team with a 92.2 average, highlighted by an 83 at the Mid-State meet. Bethel also carded rounds of 87 at HCC, 88 at Bears Den and 89 at Deacon's Lodge before ending the season with a 95 at the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship and a 101 at the subsection meet.

Stewart was the Panthers' only section qualifier after shooting an 88 at the subsection meet. Stewart followed with a 106 in his Section 8AA debut. Stewart also carded rounds of 86 at Longbow and 93 at the Mid-State meet and finished the season with a 94.7 average.

Those four helped the Panthers finished third at the Mid-State meet with a season-best 332 and seventh at the subsection meet with a 365.

Also returning with some varsity experience are sophomores Ryan DeLaHunt and CJ Hess. DeLaHunt had a 102 average in four varsity meets with a low of 97 while Hess had a 104.6 average in six varsity meets with a low of 95.

Competing for varsity spots will be junior Kyle Lewis; sophomore Andrew Stinar; freshmen Joseph Bannerman, Zach Hagen, Dillon Schroeder and Ethan Yliniemi; and eighth graders Tristan Breitweser, Wyatt Derman, Remington Hagen and Andre Schaum.

"I have high expectations for this team," said Usher. "One of our team goals this season is to break 330. We have the talent to do it. I feel we have four kids who can break 80. By the end of the season, we're going to be really competitive."

Last season, Staples-Motley, Pequot Lakes, Wadena-Deer Creek and Crosby-Ironton advanced to the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship while the Panthers just missed advancing by placing fifth. Pine River-Backus, United North Central and Nevis are the other conference teams. Staples-Motley captured the Mid-Minn title.

Detroit Lakes won the Mid-State Conference title with a 306 while Staples-Motley was second with a 315.

At the North subsection meet, Roseau (with a 319), Crookston (with a 327) and Warroad (with a 334) qualified for the section tournament, joining Detroit Lakes (298), Hawley/Ulen-Hitterdal (320) and Perham (335) from the South. Detroit Lakes shot a 299 to win the section tournament while Crookston (309), Roseau (310), HUH (314) and Perham (322) also broke 330 at the section meet. Detroit Lakes went on to capture the state Class AA title while Staples-Motley finished third.

Usher is confident the Panthers can advance to the Mid-Minnesota Conference Championship, qualify for the Section 8AA meet and send a golfer to the state meet.

"I'd like us to be like Detroit Lakes. They're so good because their kids are dedicated and live on the golf course. In we want to compete with DL, our kids have to be dedicated and live on the golf course," said Usher. "I expect great things from this group. I think we'll be able to make the Mid-Minn Championship and go to sections as a team. I also think we have three kids who have a chance to go to state. It's going to be tough, but I think we can do it."