Friendly Rivalry

JEWELL – Their golf games are as similar as their personalities are different, and that works for South Hamilton seniors Braxton Risetter and Trevor Ullestad, who just happen to be the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked golfers in Class 2A this spring.

Both can hit the ball a mile. Both can throw darts at the pin. And both can rack up birdies the way a food critic packs on the pounds.

But between shots their demeanors couldn’t be more different. Risetter has been known to wear his emotions on his sleeve, which even he admits can be both good and bad. Ullestad dons the same expression from tee to green; you’d be hard-pressed to know whether he was 12-over or 4-under at any point during his round.

There are many things they agree on, like the fact that they’ve played more rounds together than they can count since they began staking out the Jewell Golf and Country Club as sixth graders. Both say the mental side of the game has become easier, particularly this spring as they’ve taken over one leaderboard after another.

Oh yeah, they also agree, rather quickly, that every time the tee goes into the ground they want to beat the other.

That friendly rivalry has made them better golfers, and it’s a big reason why the No. 1-ranked Hawks are the team to beat in the race for a state championship this spring.

“We both want to win,” Ullestad, who is currently the No. 2-ranked individual behind – who else? – Risetter, said. “When we’re out here (at practice) just messing around it’s not a big deal, but in a meet or tournament we want to win.”

“Yeah, I would say it’s a pretty serious competition,” Risetter said as he sat next to a nodding Ullestad. “During meets it’s a lot more serious.”

South Hamilton head coach Mark Ullestad, who also doubles as Trevor’s dad, has watched his two pupils blossom from solid varsity golfers early in their careers to nearly unbeatable so far this season. The two have helped the Hawks win two Heart of Iowa Conference crowns and qualify for three consecutive state tournaments, where the team has placed third, fourth and third.

Mark Ullestad knows just how good he has it because, quite frankly, he knows just how much the two players want to own bragging rights over the other.

“They’re uber competitive, whether it’s high school golf or ping pong,” Mark Ullestad said. “They don’t like getting beat by anybody and I’ve seen that since they were in junior high. But they’re also team focused; they want the team to do well. They put that up on a pedestal where it deserves to be.”

Trevor Ullestad owns the edge when it comes to regular-season meet accolades and at the Heart of Iowa Conference tournament, where he threatened the course record at the Tournament Club of Iowa last spring on his way to a winning score of 70. And who happened to be second at that tournament? Risetter, of course, with a 73.

Risetter won the head-to-head showdown and crown at the weather-shortened Bondurant-Farrar Invite earlier this spring, but Ullestad answered with back-to-back titles at the West Marshall Invite and Panorama Invite.

At state it’s been Risetter who has shined just a little brighter. He finished tied for seventh at Spring Valley Golf Course outside of Livermore last spring, while Ullestad – who admits the 18-hole layout has given him problems in the past – shared 13th.

The 2A state meet will be back at Spring Valley in late May and you better believe the Hawks expect to be there. The mission for the two is obvious.

“Our goal going into every tournament has been to go 1-2, so that would be awesome (to do it at state),” Ullestad, who will play collegiately in the fall at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, said.

Both say – believably – they would be happy whoever won, something Mark Ullestad agreed with instantaneously. Still …

“I think it would be a little bittersweet,” Risetter, a University of Nebraska at Kearney recruit, admitted. “The person who won would feel happy, but we both know each other well enough that we’d feel a little bad for the person that got second.”

But could they really pull off the one-two finish? Once again, Mark Ullestad has a quick answer.

“I’m biased. One is my kid and one is kind of like my kid out here … I’d put those two up against any two in this class, or any class to be honest with you. They’ve very driven. They want to finish up their high school careers on a good note and they want to prove to everyone they can play this game.”

Their successes also translate into team achievements, which is why the Hawks have gone from the hunter to the hunted this spring. In year’s past, South Hamilton has been forced to try to chase down powers Waterloo Columbus and Prairie City-Monroe, but this spring is a different ballgame.

When South Hamilton is efficient, it’s extremely tough to beat.

“The chances are good that if he and I go first and second we’d probably win as a team and that’s the focal point this year,” Risetter said. “I don’t think we’ve necessarily been close to touching what we can shoot (as a team) yet. All six of (us) can shoot 80 or under, which I think is a big deal.”

Following graduation next month, both will set out on the summer amateur circuit. Risetter already has a quality finish at the Iowa Amateur under his belt, and Ullestad made it into the field at the Big I National at famed Pinehurst in North Carolina last summer after tying for second at the state qualifier at Blue Top Ridge Golf Course in Riverside.

“This will be the first summer that we’ve had almost the exact same schedule, so it should be fun,” Risetter said.

More tournaments, more chances to beat one another. And they can’t wait.

But first there’s a little unfinished business they must attend to. The stretch run starts Monday when they’ll try to lead the Hawks to another HOIC championship back at TCI, and then the focus will shift to sectionals and then districts and then, if they’re fortunate enough to play well, state.

“It’s been a nice ride and we want to finish it off in style,” Mark Ullestad said.

The final chapter of this book has yet to be written. However it plays out, one thing is certain – it’s going to be a fun month of May.