By ANDY HEINTZ
---- — OTTUMWA —The Ottumwa golf team will be hard-pressed to usurp last year's accomplishments, but with a golfer like Matthew Walker on your squad, anything is possible.
While the Bulldogs lost two great golfers in Joe Wetrich and Jacob Gardner to graduation, the nexus of last season's team remains intact. Walker, along with fellow juniors Dillon Patritto and Braxton Coble and senior Hoyt Grooms will be at the vanguard of Ottumwa's success this season.
"Those guys are pretty solid," Ottumwa golf coach Scott Maas, who replaced long-time coach Mike Cardin last season, said.
The four golfers — along with Wetrich and Gardner — helped the Bulldog linksters collect a medley of accomplishments last season. These achievements included taking third place at the Class 4A Boys State golf tournament, snaring second at the district tournament, notching first at the Ottumwa, Marshalltown, Southeast Polk, and Burlington Invitationals and winning the CIML Metro 7 Championship.
Of course, any coverage of the Bulldogs must reserve a prominent space for Walker. The Ottumwa golf prodigy continues to make headlines with his excellent play on the links. Walker's impressive pedigree includes being named the Boys Class 4A Player of the Year by the Iowa High School Coaches Association last season,winning the state championship by a comfortable margin, getting named the IGA Junior Player of the Year, taking first in the district tournament, notching first in the Metro 7 Conference and in the Bulldogs home invitational last season.
In addition, Walker recently won the Greater Ottumwa City Golf Championship and he nearly won the 38th PGA Junior Section Championship for boys ages 16-18. He wound up taking second in the junior section championship after losing a playoff to George Qian of Bettendorf.
While Ottumwa's golf program has churned out some tremendous golfers over the years, Walker's exploits have earned him a spot among the heralded program's most elite players.
"He has to be thought of as being one of the best," Maas said.
While Ottumwa's core is strong, the Bulldogs will need a boost from some of its younger, less experienced players.
"Some of the younger guys will have to step up to replace Joe Wetrich and Jacob Gardner," Maas said.
Some of the younger guys who will be vying for a varsity spot include sophomores Gavin Dostal, Jack Hardie, Jacob Bjerke, Shane Wolfley and freshmen Trey Thomas and Wyatt Crosby. After a tremendous season in 2012, Ottumwa's goals remain high.
"I think the guys have high goals for themselves," Maas said. "Our two main goals are to win conference again and make it to the state tourney."
Ottumwa kicks off its season at 10 a.m. Monday at the Indianola Country Club.
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