Golf is an individual sport but just don’t explain it that way to the Hastings boys’ golf team.
“We play together,” senior Jacob Cooper said. “We’ve all played hockey together at some point, a few of us have played football together. We hang out together, grew up together, went to school together.
‘‘We’re always together, and everything we’ve done [in golf] has been together.”
The Raiders’ six-player squad consists of five seniors and a junior, many of whom have been on the team since seventh grade. Hastings might be the deepest team that tees it up in the Class 3A state tournament Tuesday and Wednesday at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.
“You won’t find a closer team, I can tell you that,” junior Matthew Radke said.
That closeness, Cooper said, is a reason the Raiders, who finished fourth in last year’s tournament, have been so consistent this year.
All season, Hastings has been at or near the top of the team rankings compiled by the Minnesota Golf Association. Heading into the postseason, it was third, one spot behind a talented Lakeville North team that was in the same section.
“We made it to state last year, and had everyone coming back. We knew this was going to be a great opportunity for a good season,” said coach Pete McGinnis, noting three of his players — Cooper, Radke and senior Sam Otto — made all-state last season. “But we switched sections, and that changed things a lot.
“We just had the mind-set that we could play with anyone if we came out and really competed. The kids just said, ‘We have to beat [Lakeville North] at some point. Why not now?’ ”
In the first round of the Class 3A, Section 1 tournament, which began May 31 and didn’t wrap up until June 3 due to weather delays, Hastings fired a season-low, 1-under par 287 to take a three-shot lead over Lakeville North. Cooper led the way with a 67, the lowest score of his career.
“All season, we’ve been a team that’s never played under pressure and lost,” Cooper said. “A three-shot lead against the No. 1 or 2 team in state, we knew what we needed to do.”
In the second round Cooper and Radke both shot 71. Combined with solid play from seniors Otto, Mark Huneke, Dominick Bacon and Nick Tusa, the Raiders wound up with a six-shot victory and a trip to state for the second consecutive year.
“A lot of these kids have been on the team for five, six years, and we’ve been building toward this year,” McGinnis said. “This is just a special group.”
Hastings has made 16 trips to the state tournament, but hasn’t won a title since 1986. Cooper expects his team to change that, but the final result at state won’t determine the season’s success.
“If we don’t win it, we’ll be upset,” he said, “but I just want us to play solid rounds, do it with class and really enjoy it. As long as we’re playing for each other, we’ll be OK.”