Campbell Wagener may be in a class by himself when it comes to Evanston’s athletic history.
Already an accomplished hockey player, a rare All-State choice for ETHS as a junior in that club sport, Wagener joined the short list of players wearing the Orange and Blue who have earned multiple state tournament berths in golf.
Officially, Wagener isn’t a state qualifier and you can thank the coronavirus pandemic for that. But the Evanston senior would have qualified for the Illinois High School Association state tournament based on his 13th place finish Monday at the rainy and windswept Class 3A Conant Sectional.
Wagener aimed even higher than another repeat trip to State, leading the tournament after 9 holes before settling for a final score of 36-43-79. No Evanston player has ever won a sectional. Teammate Jacob Lipman, who also advanced as an individual qualifier out of the regional tourney, added a 40-44-84 on the Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club course in Hoffman Estates.
For all of Wagener’s accomplishments, Monday’s performance reached what seemed like an anti-climax because the IHSA has already cancelled all state finals in fall sports due to the pandemic.
“I wish we could play another week, especially with the ending I had today,” Wagener said. “It definitely bugs me that I could have been on that list (of multiple state qualifiers).
“I had one bad shot that threw me off, my second shot on the 12th hole that went into the water. That gave me a double bogey, and I just had a bunch of bogeys after that.”
His 1-over-par score at the turn was known to all thanks to the new IHSA phone app that allows coaches and players (and fans when they’re allowed) to view live updates as scores are registered.
But Wagener discovered that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
“I played much better when it was raining,” he pointed out. “Then I saw that I was first or second at the turn, and that kinda played with my head a little. That was definitely in my head. It probably would’ve been helpful if I hadn’t seen the scores on my phone.
“I was good off the tee and that kept me out of trouble (early in the round).”
The two Evanston standouts had to battle fierce crosswinds that blew intermittent rain sideways at times, although the rain did let up over the second half of the competition. Three players — Myles Lahart of Maine South, Patrick Adler of Loyola Academy and Jason Gordon of Glenbrook North — set the scoring pace with identical 74s, and Glenbrook North edged New Trier 308-309 for the team title.
“I had mixed emotions about my round,” said Lipman, who reached the sectional round for the second straight year. “It really felt like making it to State for me, because I was 6 strokes better at the regional than I was a year ago.
“My front 9 wasn’t bad, but I finished a little rough. I went bogey, double and then strung together 3 straight pars on the back, but then the wind really picked up and started knocking down my shots. It was tough to go up and down because of that. I felt like I hit my tee shots pretty well, but from 150 (yards) in the wind kept knocking down my approach shots, and I didn’t really adjust.”
“Given the conditions today, I thought both boys played outstanding golf,” praised Evanston head coach Jed Curtis. “Cam might’ve hit 2 bad shots all day, and that was in as tough conditions as we’ve played in all year. Had there been a state tournament, he would have made it again.
“Am I disappointed he didn’t get the opportunity to go to State again? 100 percent. But, like I’ve said before, our team was just thankful for every opportunity we had this year. We knew we had to savor every opportunity — no matter where the season ended — and I think we did that.
“In a normal year, you’d ramp up to a big crescendo at the end of the year. It was a different dynamic this year.”