CORALVILLE — They have more in common than the game of golf.
Similar scores and finishes among the state’s best is part of the story.
Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Brock Barnhart, Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Ian Johnston and Cedar Rapids Washington’s Connor Neighbors are among a group of golfers with Elmcrest Country Club ties competing in the Class 4A state golf meet at Brown Deer Golf Club, beginning Friday at 10:30 a.m. The second and final round is set for Saturday at 9 a.m.
All three, as well as members of the Washington and Cedar Rapids Xavier qualifying teams, honed their skills at Elmcrest, working with pros Larry Gladson and Brian Johnson.
“I think we are very proud of what we’ve been able to do,” said Neighbors, a commit to SIU-Edwardsville making his fourth state appearance. “We can all agree that it all goes back to what is happening at Elmcrest right now. The success they’ve had with their Junior program I think has been cool.”
Barnhart, Johnston and Neighbors have been the most recent students to excel at the varsity level. Barnhart, a junior, has medaled at state twice, placing second as a freshman and tying for fifth a year ago. Neighbors has top-10 finishes the last two seasons, getting seventh last year.
Johnston is making his second straight trip to state, overcoming the death of his 23-year-old brother Seth Carnicle and earning donations with each birdie to create national awareness to opioid addiction and substance abuse. Johnston tied for 12th in 2007.
“We all know what we’re capable of,” said Johnston, who will golf for South Dakota. “Honestly, the most important thing out there is to try to have fun, but we’re still very competitive against one another. We all know what we can shoot.”
The trio has battled in and out of season, dating back to their youth. Barnhart, an Iowa State commit, said he and Johnston began playing golf together around the age of 7 or 8. Neighbors joined later, starting to play at 6 and becoming more serious at 9.
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Not only have they fought for varsity accolades, they have vied for honors in Iowa PGA and AJGA Junior events. They have all seemed to get the upper hand in different ways.
Barnhart has better state finishes, while Neighbors has seen better team success and regular-season honors, earning Mississippi Valley Conference divisional Athlete of the Year accolades. Johnston has won the 2018 Iowa Junior Amateur Championship, AJGA Junior Championship, 43rd Junior PGA Qualifier and the 2018 Pribyl.
They push and support each other at the same time.
“We just always have fun with each other,” Barnhart said. “A reason we have grown a lot is competing against each all the time through the summer, fall and winter. We’re always striving to beat each other.”
Neighbors is among those who take lessons from Johnson. Johnston and Barnhart have worked extensively with Gladson, the well-established golf pro who worked with Masters Champion and former Cedar Rapids Regis prep Zach Johnson. Max Henderson, who posted the Saints’ top district score, also works with Gladson.
Gladson has devoted numerous hours mentoring young area golfers. Both noted that Gladson knows the intricate details of his students’ swings and tendencies and can point out what needs to be corrected.
“It’s incredible what he’s done,” said Johnson, who has a lesson every two weeks. “He’s turned out so many great golfers in this area. It’s crazy too see how many kids are coming out and playing.
“There are a lot of Elmcrest kids playing and now most of them are going to go play at the (NCAA Division I) college. It’s just really impressive.”
All three are bundled together in the state rankings. Johnston leads the way at fifth with a 36.61 combined adjusted average and a 71 18-hole average. He was the top individual qualifier from the district at Hunters Ridge on Monday.
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“I feel really excited since this is my last high school tournament,” said Johnston, who will be joined in the field by teammate Jared Tjelmeland. “I just want to go out and have some fun and try to shoot really well.”
Neighbors and Barnhart are not far behind. Barnhart sits sixth at 36.68, averaging 72.75 over 18. Neighbors owns a 36.89 combined adjusted average, coming in seventh.
Like Johnston, Neighbors wants to cap his prep career in memorable fashion as part of Washington’s fourth straight state appearance and fifth in the last six seasons.
“It’s kind of saddening to see this is my last go round (for Washington),” said Neighbors, who averages 71.88. “I definitely want to finish on a positive note.”
Xavier will make its third state appearance in the last four seasons, placing eighth last year. Western Dubuque sophomore Jax Stelzer qualified for the individual field.
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