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West Fargo's Payton Johnson lines up a putt during a match Tuesday at Village Green golf course in Moorhead. Dave Wallis / Forum Communications Co.

Packers on par for another successful season

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By Tyler Shoberg

The West Fargo boys golf team had a season to remember in 2011: they never placed lower than third in any conference meet, and wound up winning the East Region championship before taking third at state.

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This year, the Packers are picking up right where they left off.

After two Eastern Dakota Conference meets - one at Kings Walk in Grand Forks and the other at Village Green in Moorhead - West Fargo is undefeated and boasts a team average of 295.5 strokes.

They might just have had a lucky couple rounds of golf, but in co-coach Chuck Gad's opinion, there's more to it than that.

"We have five of our top six golfers back from last year," he said. "And they've improved a lot since last season; they're pretty good golfers."

Of those five golfers, four are seniors who bring critical veteran experience to West Fargo's roster.

Connor Holland and Payton Johnson currently sit second and seventh in the EDC standings with 72 and 74 stroke averages, respectively.

Just two strokes back from Johnson is Luke Olson, who only played during the Packers' most recent meet and shot a 76. And a half stroke behind Olson is Nick Evin, who averaged an even 80 last year as a junior.

Holland was West Fargo's lone state placer last year after hitting a two-day 152 that put him in a four-way tie for fourth. He also earned all-conference honors with a 74.83 regular-season stroke average, and was ranked fifth overall.

Olson also landed in the Top 10 last year after finishing the season with a 78.17 stroke average to tie Fargo Shanley's Nick Skafewski for ninth place.

But while the seniors may have strength in numbers, one underclassman, in particular, will be sure to turn heads again this spring.

Sophomore Riley Johnson, the younger brother of Payton Johnson, currently sits fifth in the EDC standings after shooting back-to-back 73s in West Fargo's first two conference meets. Last year as a freshman, Riley Johnson finished with a 79.86 average, and placed 16th at state after shooting a 159.

Gad has high hopes for the younger Johnson, and points to another one of West Fargo's top golfers as an attainable goal.

"Riley is going to be a Connor Holland when he gets older, I guarantee it," he said.

That might seem like a tall order now, but Gad knows what his golfers are capable of, especially when they start off young.

In Riley Johnson's case, the road to golfing prowess began in seventh grade. And this year, the youngest Johnson, Cole, is following in his brothers' footsteps.

"If we get then when they're young, it's a good thing," Gad said, noting that building interest in those youthful years can help focus athletic goals as players get older. "Once a kid gets the (golfing) bug, this is all they want to do, this is all they want to play."

Starting them young and getting them to play as much as possible are the keys to West Fargo's success. And even though the No. 6 spot of the varsity roster likely won't be shored up for a bit, at least that will give other players the opportunity to experience competition during the regular season.

"We'll find somebody," Gad said. "And we're off to a good start, but we can always be better. There will be ups and downs, but we'll be ready for them."

The Packers were scheduled to play at Rose Creek golf course Tuesday, but results were unavailable by press time. They play again Friday and Saturday at Edgewood golf course for the Fargo North Invitational.

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