Archive for Monday, July 25, 2016

Shawnee sports: SMNW alum Allen ahead of college golf learning curve

July 25, 2016

As the 2016-2017 school year looms closer, Shawnee-area athletes have been putting in countless hours of training this summer to prepare for their respective sports seasons.

There will likely be freshmen who step up and make an immediate impact on the varsity level, and seniors who will be looking to make the most of their final high school season.

While I didn't have the chance to report on fall sports in Shawnee last year with just joining the Dispatch in January, it really stuck out to me that there were quite a few athletes from each area school who signed to compete at the collegiate level.

One of the things that I am going to try my best to do is to keep track of how area athletes fair in college after moving on from the Shawnee high school sports scene.

The transition to competing at the collegiate level is an extremely difficult one. There are a few Class of 2016 graduates who are now NCAA Division I athletes, and some of them have already reported to their college teams and are starting to find out what that process is like.

It goes without saying that Division I is where the best of the best go to continue their athletic careers, but there was a perfect example last weekend that there are some exceptional athletes from the Shawnee area who will be moving on to compete at lower levels.

Shawnee Mission Northwest Class of 2016 graduate Blake Allen won the Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship on Sunday at The Golf Club of South Wind in Garden City.

Since I had the honor of being on hand to watch two of my former college cross country teammates get married on Saturday, I was unable to witness Allen's match play title run, but I paid close attention to the hole-by-hole updates on the Kansas Golf Association's website.

Allen entered the match play tournament as the No. 48 seed after tying for 45th place in stroke play earlier in the week, but I had a feeling that he would make a deep run just from watching him play last spring.

There is not one specific area of Allen's game that will wow you, but his consistency is what makes him so hard to beat. He religiously hits his fairways and greens, and rarely puts himself into trouble if he does miss them.

The only time I ever witnessed Allen stray away from playing within himself were the final three holes at the state tournament in May, and it cost him a very solid chance of winning it all.

Allen had a one stroke lead with three to play, but he told me after the round that he didn't think he had done enough up to that point to win a state title. All it took were a couple of a errant shots to completely take him out of contention, but I could tell just from looking at his scorecards throughout the Kansas Amateur that he learned from that experience. What he told me over the phone following the tournament confirmed that.

"It's all about staying patient and just kind of hanging around in the match because the longer the match goes on, if you can just stay in there, people will start to make mistakes," Allen said. "If you go out there trying to be overly aggressive, sometimes that can get you in trouble and you can drop shots."

Allen was a birdie machine in Sunday's final round against Garden City's Taylor Larsen, but the key to him getting to the championship match for the SM Northwest alumnus was trying not to do too much. The Washburn signee carded 11 birdies over 29 holes to defeat Larsen, 8 and 7, and saved par on the other 18.

"You can par people to death. You don't have to go out there and make a bunch of birdies," Allen said. "Obviously birdies are great because you're almost guaranteed to win the hole if you're making birdies. If you just go out there and make par, it frustrates the other players because you're not making mistakes and you're winning holes with pars when they're feeling like they have to win a hole with birdie."

One other thing I was curious to ask Allen about were the course conditions throughout the tournament, and how he adapted to them. With temperatures at or near triple digits Tuesday-Sunday in Garden City, playing 155 holes of golf over that span like Allen did is far from easy. Remember that golfers are not allowed to use carts in tournaments, so the next time someone tells you that golf shouldn't be considered a sport or you don't need to be an athlete to play it, keep in mind what Allen went through to win the tournament.

Tough conditions have been nothing new to Allen recently either. It seems like a while ago with the heat wave that has lasted most of July, but the month of May was pretty rotten weather wise — especially for the Class 6A regional and state tournaments. Allen noted that the cold and dreary conditions in the championships tournaments in the spring made him mentally stronger, and the experience paid off in the extreme heat of last week.

"It's like when you watch The Open. The guys that have been there are much better they know that you can't expect everything to be perfect," Allen said. "You can't expect to hit perfect shots every time because the conditions just don't call for it. You're going to hit some good shots that end up bad because of the conditions and you're going to hit some bad shots that may end up OK.

"You just kind of have to keep your head in it and keep focused and don't get too high, don't get too low. You get bad breaks in golf, and you get great ones, too. You just have to take them as they come and just keep playing."

The fact that Allen mentioned the often blustery conditions of The Open Championship just goes to show what a student of the game he is. Allen has continually picked up knowledge of the game over the past five years, and he's been quick to credit his older brothers Garret and Colton for teaching him a thing or two as well.

With being the only true freshman on Washburn's roster next year, I'm sure Allen will be very attentive when on the course with his teammates so that he can personally improve, and more importantly to him help his team improve.

Allen ended the phone interview I had with him by saying, "Go Bods!" The team-first mentality, willingness to learn and athleticism that Allen has should pay off as he launches his collegiate career. If there were any questions of how Allen would transition to playing golf in college, he has sure answered them this summer with his two recent victories.

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