Golfers make steady progress early

On target for states with 4-1 start

By: Rudy Brandl
   Golf can be a strange and unpredictable game.
   Sometimes, a great round isn’t good enough to produce a victory. On other occasions, such as Sunday’s final round of The Masters when Tiger Woods wasn’t at his best, an average performance will get the job done. Everything depends on the conditions and the opposition.
   The Hillsborough High golf team experienced that part of the game in last week’s matches. Despite continuing to shave strokes off their team score on two different courses this spring, the Raiders (4-1) dropped a match to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.
   Warren Hills remained undefeated with a 192-206 victory at Hillsborough Country Club last Wednesday. That 206 stood as Hillsborough’s best home course score at the time, but the Raiders lowered that to 202 in Friday’s victory over North Brunswick. HHS opened the season by shooting 208 in a home win over Phillipsburg, so the team has improved with every match at HCC.
   The Raiders have won both matches played at Quail Brook in Somerset this season, but made tremendous progress from the opening round in their second visit. After scoring 219 to beat Franklin, the Raiders shot a season-best 200 in last week’s win over Watchung Hills.
   "I’ve been very pleased with what we’ve done so far," HHS head coach Paul Parker said. "That first match was a 219, but we had a little bit of nerves. There have been some pretty good scores for this time of the year. We had an 19-stroke difference between our first two matches at Quail Brook and we’ve improved every time in our home matches."
   Warren Hills, a top-notch team with four players shooting 38 or lower, simply played too well to lose in last week’s match. All five Raiders played bogey golf or better, which is good enough to win most of the time.
   "Nobody would have beaten them that day," Parker said. "We shot our best round and they were just too good. They’ve been pretty good the last couple of years. I don’t know how they do it, but they’ve got a lot of golf courses within 10 miles of there."
   Brad Schulte has become the team’s top player in the early going. Schulte carded back-to-back rounds of 38 on the front nine at Hillsborough Country Club last week and leads the Raiders with a 3.2 handicap average. That means Schulte is averaging playing around three strokes over par per nine holes.
   Schulte had a rough start with a bogey golf round of 45 but has since mastered the HCC course. He’s been under 40 in all four regular season matches since and needs one more such round to qualify for the state individual tournament.
   "He’s got a lot of confidence," Parker said. "He’s kept the mental aspect of the game at an even keel. Last year, he’d get uptight if he made a bad shot. This year, he’s matured and he comes back with something better."
   John Cannon ranks second on the team with a 4.8 average, followed by Joe Vazzano (6.0), Mike Powers (6.2) and Ryan McCormick (6.6). Vazzano’s short game has given him a slight edge over the others. Vazzano leads the Raiders averaging just 13 putts per nine holes.
   "He’s got a great short game," Parker said. "He can get up and down."
   Hillsborough has shown some depth this year as well. McCormick fired a season-low 38 against Watchung, while Joe Vulih contributed a 42 that day. Joe Lucarelli (40), Cannon (40), Vazzano (41) and Powers (43) followed Schulte’s 38 last Friday.
   The Raiders, who were set to play Bridgewater at Green Knoll and South Brunswick at Bunker Hill this week, remain on target to qualify for the NJSIAA team tournament. HHS needs to win 60 percent of its matches by the May 3 qualifying deadline to gain admission to the tourney.
   Hillsborough got its first taste of tournament competition in Monday’s Cherry Valley Invitational in Montgomery. The event included lunch, 18 holes of golf and an awards reception.
   The Raiders finished smack in the middle of the 16-team field, tying Bridgewater for ninth place with 253 strokes.
   Immaculata won the tournament with 228, followed by St. Joe’s (234) and Lawrence (235). Brian Gussis of St. Joe’s won the individual medalist with a stellar round of 70.
   Cannon led the Raiders for the second straight year at Cherry Valley, firing two nines of 40 for an 80. Cannon shot 76 to finish third last year.
   "He’s been shooting well there," said Parker, who matched Cannon’s score in Monday’s round. "He likes a course like that where it’s a little more wide-open. The rough was a bit thick, but there wasn’t much trouble besides that."
   Schulte (85) and Powers (88) didn’t have their best days and Vazzano, a member at Cherry Valley, wound up with a 95. Overall, the coach wasn’t too disappointed. He and his players enjoyed a beautiful day on a very nice golf course.
   "I just told them to go out, have some fun and do their best," Parker said. "It’s something they may never do again. They run a nice tournament."