Seventh-grader Matthew Garside walked along Bunker Hills Golf Course at the section meet last season, peeking over a cart just a bit taller than himself.
In between his walks along the course, he shot a 79, advancing to the second day of the tournament.
“Everybody just stops and they stare like they’ve just seen something freakish. And they’re like ‘What the heck? Look at this kid,’ ” Mounds View coach Joe Voeller said. “He turns heads. There’s no doubt about it.”
What 5-foot, 90-pound Garside lacks in size, he makes up for with precision, maturity and a sharp mental game.
Now an eighth-grader, the 14-year-old is a key piece in the Mustangs’ youth movement.
Led by Garside, freshman Vann Hartigan and sophomore Connor Isaacson, the young team is brimming with potential.
Stretching to junior varsity, Voeller said of the team’s top nine or 10 golfers, 90 percent are sophomores or younger.
“You have golf teams that are young but aren’t very good. This is sort of different. It’s like, ‘Yeah, they’re all that young’ and ‘Yeah, they have enormous potential.’ It’s all there,” he said.
Last year the Mustangs finished ninth in their conference and sixth in their section. This year they’re looking to build on that.
“We kind of instill a little bit of fear in everybody else because I think … they realize once we get older and keep on growing, there’s some very exciting possibilities, not just at the section level, [but] maybe at the state level,” Voeller said.
The Mustangs are stronger, more mature and ready to turn more heads.
“It’s just great to know that we’re young [and] we’re good this year. I mean, next year and the year after that, I can’t even imagine how fun that’ll be,” Hartigan said.
Voeller likened the Mustangs to Hastings, a team that was bursting with young talent for years. Finally, with a core of seniors, the Raiders tapped that talent and reached the state tournament last year.
To make a similar move, the young Mustangs will likely go through some growing pains.
Isaacson said last year was “kind of a struggle.”
“We were really young and inexperienced. A lot of guys were [experiencing] their first time playing competitive golf,” he said. “Just the second year, the third year for some guys is going to be big [for] learning what to do and improving.”
Last year Mounds View broke 320 as a team a few times. This year, a score of 310 to 315 is within the realm of possibility.
With the extra year of maturity for many of the team members comes a higher-level mental game.
“I’ve noticed people have gotten better mentally and they have better attitudes toward the game,” Isaacson said.
For Hartigan, part of that mental improvement came during the summer when he was competing against many older kids.
“It’s all in your head, basically. Once you overcome the fact that you are going to run into a lot of really good golfers that will beat you, and you’re going to have to hold your group and play against them, you kind of naturally build that ability to stick with them,” he said.
That’s an attitude the young team could benefit from moving forward as it faces teams that will be considered favorites in its conference.
“For us, it’s almost like I don’t know. It’s a question mark. Things could be exciting. We could turn heads. … Or we could be too immature to get there,” Voeller said. “I’m going to be realistic and say maybe this year might be too soon for us to really make noise, but I would say maybe next year, the year after that, things could happen.”
Betsy Helfand is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.