Passion has powered Connor Neighbors to another strong golf season

Hard work has paid dividends for Cedar Rapids Washington junior

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Connor Neighbors tried numerous sports as a youth.

He played soccer, baseball, basketball and football. None of them resonated with the Cedar Rapids Washington junior like golf and the independence that it demands.

“Golf is a little bit different because it is more of an individual sport,” Neighbors said. “I like having all the pressure on me, being able to make my own swings and shots. I really like that.”

Being accountable for his own improvement and success has served him well. Neighbors tied for 10th at the 2016 state meet and has followed it with another successful season. He begins the Class 4A postseason Tuesday with the district meet at Elmcrest Country Club, beginning at 10 a.m.

Neighbors recently earned his second straight Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division Athlete of the Year honors, sharing it last season with teammate Alex Slattery.

“I’ve been really proud of the way I’ve played this year, so far,” Neighbors said. “I’ve placed really well in some meets. Overall, it usually has been pretty consistent for me.”

Washington Coach Dennis Goettel said he has rarely seen a bad hole, nevertheless a bad round, from Neighbors. He has witnessed the inspired play and work ethic by Neighbors, leading to the steady play.

“He’s a hard worker,” said Goettel, praising Elmcrest pro Larry Gladson and his staff for the work they have done with Neighbors. “He puts in lots of time. He gets rewarded for that.

“He’s a great kid. When he has free time, I bet that’s one of his thoughts. Go to the golf course to play or practice.”

Golf does have a team component as well and Neighbors embraces that aspect. Not only does he like his success to rest on his own shoulders, Neighbors welcomes the added burden of helping the team as the No. 1 golfer.

“I like the pressure,” Neighbors said. “It gives me a lot of momentum and energy and it makes me play better, I think.”

Neighbors has meshed the basic approach to his length off the tee and touch with his irons. He has simplified the game by focusing on the immediate shot. Neighbors has learned not to worry about his score or other strokes, which resulted in some bad holes during summer competition.

“I never had a really bad round,” Neighbors said of this varsity season. “I’ve had just a bunch of solid rounds, so I’m still looking for that really, really good round where I feel I’ve had everything at the top of my best game.”

Neighbors leads the Warriors with a 73.86 18-hole average and 36.6 over nine. His 37.5 combined adjusted average is sixth in 4A.

“I think he’s lived up to our expectations of him and the expectations of himself,” Goettel said. “He was first-team all-state last year and he’s played like it this year.”

One added bonus to this season is the chance to play with his younger brother, Kyle Neighbors, who is a freshman. Kyle Neighbors earned his spot in the top six and has averaged a little more than 85 strokes per round.

“It definitely makes it more fun,” the older Neighbors said. “We get along really well and he’s a really good player. We can learn from each other in different ways. … I think it’s a good relationship.”

Half of Washington’s lineup are Elmcrest members and are familiar with the course. Goettel said that doesn’t matter, because you still have to play well on a challenging course with fast greens.

Neighbors pointed out that expected strong winds will cause par-3 holes to impact the round, forcing players to control distance on longer irons.

Ironically, Neighbors liked golf for the individual nature, but is more concerned with the team’s postseason performance. He wants the team to advance to the state meet Friday and Saturday at Elmwood Country Club in Marshalltown.

“An individual state title would be sweet, but I’m more focused on what our team can do,” Neighbors said. “It would be more exciting for the team to win against me individually.

“Definitely as a team, we want to compete at state and have a chance at the team title.”

Washington will compete against host Cedar Rapids Xavier, Bettendorf, Burlington, Clinton, Davenport Assumption, Davenport Central, Davenport North, Davenport West, Dubuque Wahlert, Muscatine, North Scott, Ottumwa and Pleasant Valley.

Cedar Falls will host a district Tuesday at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course. Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Iowa City High, Iowa City Liberty, Iowa City West Linn-Mar, Western Dubuque, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Marshalltown, Waterloo East and Waterloo West round out that field.

The top three teams and top two individuals, including ties, among non-qualifying teams in each district will advance to the state meet.

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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