Peyton Woods and Jake Baldin remember their first meeting.

They met when they were 11 years old during the Frank Coffey Jr. tournament at the Pasfield Golf Course. It announced the countless duels to come at Springfield High.

These accomplished seniors are now heading into their final high school tournament together.

Woods and Baldin will compete in the Illinois High School Association Class 2A Boys Golf State Finals at Weibring Golf Course in Normal on Friday, leading their school’s first appearance since 2013.

“They were key to our success, obviously,” SHS coach Jake Stapleton said. “They get better every year.”

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Woods sticks to it

Woods and Baldin also share this competitive yet friendly dichotomy with the Sacred Heart-Griffin Boys golf team.

SHG, led by Cal Johnson, Carter Etheridge, Nick Calucchia and Tyler Furkin, won the Bartonville Limestone Sectional with a 295-300 advantage over SHS on Monday. Quincy Notre Dame finished third with 316 prospect shots.

“We’ve known them for as long as I’ve known him,” Woods said, referring to Baldin, “and it’s the same thing, just like a little friendship battle.”

Woods tied Johnson for second place individually at 1 under par 71. He birdied four, including three of the front nine, to earn his first career appearance at IHSA State.

“You shoot a 300 and you lose, it’s kind of like, okay,” Stapleton said. “But these kids have all played against each other forever, so it’s kind of a neat environment. I think it makes every team better knowing you’re going to have a good competition against each other.

Woods missed last year’s state final by two strokes with a 79 in the Metamora section while the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 state final.

“It’s really good,” Woods said. “It’s also better because you succeeded as a team for the first time in nine years.”

Woods said he didn’t feel any added pressure at Coyote Creek Golf Club. He stuck to it stubbornly.

“I didn’t play my best (in last year’s section) and just practiced a little more and got better,” Woods said.

Peyton Woods and Jake Baldin check their yardage before teeing off in the championship flight for the Kone Elevator Drysdale Junior Golf Tournament at Bunn Golf Course in Springfield, Illinois on Thursday, July 15, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Regional and departmental champions

Woods and Baldin have improved their resumes over the past two years as Sangamon County Regionals and Tournament medalists.

Baldin has won both tournaments this season. He had a personal best 5 under 67 at Lincoln Greens Golf Course before winning the Maroa-Fosyth Regional at Hickory Point Golf Course in Decatur.

He shot 1 of 73 and nicked Maroa’s Tyler Davis on the playoff No. 10 hole.

Stapleton said Woods and Baldin’s composure has improved this year.

“Peyton has been my number one since freshman year, so he kind of had the tools,” Stapleton said. “Jake was there, but he just grew a lot. His game is very stable, he doesn’t have a lot of trouble. We kind of had things to put on this year. I don’t think he’s been very comfortable, but he’s been comfortable lately. I mean, 67 you’re doing something right.

“They are great players and it’s fun to coach when you have two kids who are that good.”

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Baldin said he knew he could shoot low and get the job done at Lincoln Greens en route to County.

“I knew I was sticking all my irons pretty close,” Baldin said. “I knew if you held him in play you were obviously going to shoot pretty well, but the start wasn’t great so I knew I had to stay close or my short game had to be at least good enough.”

Busy off-season

The duo certainly know Lincoln Greens inside and out. Not only do they train constantly with PGA pro Lance Flury, but they also work on it.

“We’ve done so much together,” Woods said of Flury. “And then also working for him is like the icing on the cake.”

Stapleton said both of his players deserved a spot in the state after putting in so much time in the offseason.

Woods in particular has won a multitude of tournaments such as the University of Illinois Junior Open, the Piper Glen Junior Open and the Hickory Point Junior Open, not to mention the Illinois Optimist Junior Tournaments and the Missouri, to name a few.

Baldin also followed Woods with second place in the Illinois Optimist Junior Tournament at Red Tail Run Golf Course in Decatur. This secured the only other qualifying spot for the national tournament hosted by Doral in Miami, Florida.

Woods missed the cut at the Optimist Junior Golf Championship last year, but came back for 17th overall while Baldin made his debut there.

Sharing this experience together was a most rewarding moment, according to Woods.

“It’s an honor to play on a golf course like this and to go back for a second year and do better, I felt really good,” Woods said.

Baldin missed the cut, “but it was pretty cool going there. It was my first time at one of those big golf tournaments, and I would do it again for sure.

The tournaments that followed were rehearsals for the state. Now is the time for the real thing.

“We just have to play the way we play,” Baldin said. “We don’t need to have the pressure on our minds. Everyone knows how we can play.

“We just need to put our heads in the game and get out there. I think day one is just the nervousness, then day two is just the game.”

Contact Bill Welt: (217) 788-1545,[email protected]