STERLING - La Salle-Peru sophomore Nick Mertes had just hit the perfect tee shot into the par-3 hole No. 3 green.
It was so perfect, in fact, that his dad, Sam, jumped up and yelled, "Get in the hole!"
It almost did.
Mertes stuck a shot about three feet behind the pin on the 166-yard hole, his 11th of the round, Monday afternoon at the Class 2A Sterling Sectional at Emerald Hill Golf and Learning Center.
Unfortunately, the next step to his game let the Cavalier golfer down.
Mertes attempted his putt on No. 3 and watched as the golf ball ricocheted hard off the lip and caromed out of the hole.
Those short putts weren't falling all day for Mertes, who finished with an 88 in his first sectional experience as he fell seven strokes short of the IHSA Class 2A State Meet.
"It was nerve-racking," Mertes said. "I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well when I didn't have to. I mean, 80 is going to make it. I knew I could do that. My putting was just bad. There's just nothing else to it. I just couldn't make a putt."
Joining Mertes in Sterling was fellow L-P sophomore Jake Stiel.
Stiel, like Mertes, had a strong front nine on the par-71 course as both of the Cavaliers started on the par-36 back nine.
Stiel opened with a 43 before encountering some problems on the first three holes of the par-35 back nine en route to a 53 for a 96.
"I was thinking that the back was going to play tougher," La Salle-Peru head coach Randy Gunia said of Emerald Hill. "I think, maybe, (Mertes and Stiel) just got a little over anxious on the front. It was wide open, more so than the back, and fewer hazards. It was a good experience for Jake, and even one for Nick."
Mertes was happy with the first nine holes.
He lipped out a par putt on hole No. 1 for a bogey and then bogeyed No. 2 but then played a consistent final seven holes, making three bogeys and four pars to shoot a 5-over-par 41 on the back nine.
Then came the ugly front.
Mertes opened with a double bogey on No. 1 because of a chunked chip out of some long grass, before teeing it up on No. 2.
He then hit the shot that could have changed his round.
If he made the sloping downhill birdie putt, he would be at 6-over and on a roll. Instead, he stayed at 7-over and was not happy with himself.
"That was the turning point of my round," Mertes said. "I shouldn't have let that get to me like that."
The greens were a big reason because of the timid approach from all the golfers at the sectional, including Mertes.
"Part of it is that he didn't want to hit it too hard to the hole," Gunia said of Mertes. "The greens were so fast that just a little tap may have been a better choice, taking a bogey rather than a double, even a triple, if they were going over the hole."
After missing the birdie putt, the round went south for Mertes.
He double-bogeyed the next two holes, and he double-bogeyed hole No. 6 later in the round en route to shooting a 47 on the front nine for an 88.
"I think the main turning point was No. 3, that double there," Mertes said. "No. 2 is still a par at least."
Stiel shot 7-over on his first nine holes on the back.
He then went 7-over on his first three holes of the front nine to shoot a 96.
Gunia thought the first sectional experience for both golfers will pay off next year as juniors.
"At the sophomore level, I am really pleased with that," Gunia said. "That we can come up here in sectionals and they have two more years left."
Quick Chips: Dixon and Galesburg each advanced to state as a team. The Dukes blew everyone away with a 317 team total, led by medalist-worthy performance by Mitchell Homb, who shot a 1-under 71, including a 3-under 32 on his first nine. "That's really good," Mertes said of Dixon's score. "They have some good players." â€¦ Galesburg finished with a 322 as a team, four strokes ahead of both Peoria Notre Dame and DeKalb. â€¦ Notre Dame's Jordan Fahel (73), Rochelle's John Crystal (77), Dunlap's John Schneider (78), Geneseo's Mark Converse (80), DeKalb's Cody Schmitt (80) and Mason Struthers (80), Sterling's Drake Mellott (80), Sandwich's Lucas Burkett (80) and Freeport's Shane Kunz (80) each advanced as individuals.
Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.