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Alex Holland turns career around with section title

Senior Alex Holland poses at Bunker Hills after winning the Section 3AAA championship on June 2. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Alex Holland works on his putting game in 2013. (Bulletin file photo) 2 / 2

Park senior Alex Holland was feeling pretty good as he strolled toward the scorer’s table to hand in his scorecard.

Holland knew he was in prime position to achieve his goal of qualifying for the state tournament by finishing in the top five of the Section 3AAA tournament last week at Bunker Hills. He’d just shot a second-round 75 to make for a two-day total of 148.

But when he arrived at the scorer’s table, he realized he might have done something even greater.

As the official scorer scanned Holland’s card -- littered with mostly fours and only a few fives -- he looked up at Holland and said it was the best score he’d seen all day.

Holland played in the final pairing. He was the sectional champion.

“The only thing I was really thinking about was just making it to state,” Holland said. “I wasn’t really thinking about winning the whole section tournament, but I guess it just happened. … That was a big bonus.”

To say Holland was a surprise winner would be an understatement. He certainly wasn’t a favorite heading into sectionals, and likely wasn’t even on the radar of many. Not only had Holland failed to qualify for the state tournament in past years, he hadn’t even qualified for the second day of sectionals.

That was the story for most of Holland’s prep golf career. He had high expectations for himself, but was never able to produce.

“I’ve had some bad years,” he said.

Perhaps none more frustrating than last season. The poor spring weather a year ago caused the rescheduling of events to the point where Park would play in four or five tournaments a week.

“And I was playing bad every single day in those,” Holland said. “It was just everything. I wasn’t hitting it good, wasn’t chipping or putting it well. Every aspect wasn’t good.”

So he took to the links last summer after the spring season to work on his game.

“I just played a lot last summer … every day and got a lot better and did really well this year,” he said.

But not immediately. Holland was finishing in the middle of the pack in many of the season’s earlier events, until a match at the Lake City Jewel Golf Club in early May. He finished fourth and his game started to turn the corner.

“I had a couple of rounds where I’d just have a bad nine and then I’d play really well on the back nine,” he said. “Then after that is when I felt like I really started playing well.”

Holland said the key to his turnaround was the putter. Once that came around, everything else followed.

Park golf coach Chad Salay said he saw Holland’s mentality on the course improve.

“His game’s definitely improved a lot, but he doesn’t get down on himself as much as he used to,” Salay said. “He just stays in the moment, doesn’t worry if he has a bad hole and really stays into it, so it’s been fun to see.”

By the end of the season Salay said Holland was usually finishing in the top 10 at each event.

“He finished at the top of the [Suburban East Conference], which was the toughest conference in the state, so he definitely improved by the end of the season,” Salay said. “You could see the steps rolling throughout the year.”

The late-season successes had Holland confident heading into sectionals, but still, his goal was simply to qualify for state.

That goal didn’t change following his sensational first round in which he posted a 73. And though scoring conditions were less than ideal, Holland was every bit as good on the second day of the tournament, which sealed up the section title, which he won by four strokes.

“He was just putting unbelievably and getting down in two putts and making some birdies here and there,” Salay said. “It was just fun to watch.”

Holland said he would already call this season a “pretty successful” one. It could get even better at this week’s state tournament at Bunker Hills, which starts on Tuesday -- the same course he recently diced up on his way to a section title.

“He’ll have a lot of good thoughts going into a lot of the holes, because he made a lot of good numbers there,” Salay said. “I think that will help the psyche portion of the game.”

Still, Holland won’t enter state with any expectations for himself. He doesn’t want to add any pressure, allowing himself to enjoy the moment.

For someone who struggled so mightily to master his game for so many years, it’s a moment for which he’s been waiting a long time.

“This is what I’ve been looking at throughout my high school career,” Holland said. “ And to finally do it in my senior year, it really feels nice.”