By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
BAYSE -- As the course of the 2011 high school golf season wore on, things just began clicking for Ben Kline.
Kline, now a rising junior at Central, battled through what he called a "rough start" to the beginning of his sophomore season before settling into a rhythm on the golf course. Kline rode that momentum into the Region B tournament, where he shot an 80 at Falling River Golf Club in Appomattox to qualify for the Group A state tournament.
"Throughout the season, I guess I gained some more experience and found out what I needed to do in matches to get my score down to a reasonable level," Kline said before Central's first golf practice of the 2012 season on Wednesday at Bryce Resort. "By the end of the season, when the playoffs started, everything turned out good. Pressure just got to me in a good way, I guess."
Kline shot back-to-back 88s in the state tournament to finish the event a "disappointing" 37 strokes over par, but the experience that he gained during the tournament could prove to be invaluable to a young Falcons squad this season.
"The competition that he got to see last year [at the state tournament], that's really been a motivator for him," said Falcons coach Jeff Walters. "I think it refocused him, and he's taking it very seriously."
That's good news for the Falcons, who lost three seniors from last season's team, including top golfer Stephen Truban. Walters will now look to Kline to fill that No. 1 spot this season, starting when Central begins regular season play in the first Bull Run District mini-tournament at Blue Ridge Shadows on Monday.
Kline joins senior Eric Semones and Jacob Allwine as the only returning golfers with any significant competitive experience, and Walters said Kline must step up and be a leader on the golf course if the Falcons are to be competitive in a tough district.
"I'm looking for good things out of him. I don't want to put the burdens of any expectations on him, but he's going to have to be our standard-bearer for this year," Walters said.
Being dealt the leadership role is perfectly fine with Kline, who said he's played golf three to four times a week since the end of last season in preparation for the 2012 campaign.
"Certainly it should be expected from me, but I'm just trying to do my thing and trying to set a good example," Kline said. "It's certainly different from years past, but I'm looking forward to having that opportunity."
Kline said that his dedication to improving his game during the off-season has already paid vast dividends. He has focused a lot of attention on his putting in an effort to improve his short game, and he has noticed an improvement in his overall scores.
The improvements haven't all been of the technical variety, however. Kline said much of the recent success he has been having is due to an improved mentality on the golf course.
Walters noticed the change in Kline's mental focus beginning last season and said it was a major reason Kline was able to make a run deep into postseason tournament play.
"Ben really came into his own at the end of the year last year," Walters said. "He became a more patient player, and used a little more brains instead of just brawn all the time.
"A lot times when you're young and you hit a bad shot, you try to make up for it with your next shot. But in golf, you can't make up for it, and he's learned that. If he hits a bad shot, he takes his lumps and moves on."
Kline said that reaching the state tournament has only improved his focus for the upcoming season, and he has his sights set high for 2012.
The first item on his checklist is to help the Falcons reach the Region B tournament for the second year in a row.
And you can bet Kline wants another shot at a state tournament appearance.
"It raised my expectations for this year, for sure," Kline said. "[The state tournament] is unlike anything else you could play in. It's just a great thing to look forward to every year, to set that as your goal."