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Thetford Golfer an Army of One

  • Erik Lindahl, Thetford Academy's one-man golf team, takes on Rivendell and Windsor at Lake Morey Resort on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Erik Lindahl, Thetford Academy's one-man golf team, takes on Rivendell and Windsor at Lake Morey Resort on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Erik Lindahl, Thetford Academy's one-man golf team, takes on Rivendell and Windsor at Lake Morey Resort on Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Orford, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Friday, May 12, 2017

Fairlee — This time last year, Erik Lindahl was swinging for the fences. This spring, he’s swinging from his heels.

Thetford Academy has had precious few, if any, high school golfers since the Panthers’ program expired for lack of interest not long after winning the Vermont Division III state championship in 1998. Lindahl is on a one-man mission to change that, if only from the standpoint of visibility.

The first Panther on the Vermont high school links in about two decades has shown the potential to shake things up at states. He’s been either second or first in the four matches in which he’s played in recent weeks, joining coach Justin Bonnett’s Rivendell Academy team for practices and shooting gradually better scores with each event.

Largely self-taught, Lindahl believes he can be a challenger for individual honors should he qualify for states in a few weeks.

“It was a little bit last-minute; I really didn’t know what I was going to do,” Lindahl said after Thursday’s small three-school match at Lake Morey Country Club. “I talked to Justin; I technically can’t play for another team, but practicing with them and kind of being with them as a squad feels really good.”

Having Lindahl join his Raptors is nothing new for Bonnett. He has an affinity for stray golfers — a few springs back, when Oxbow’s Chase Andrews didn’t have his own squad, Bonnett welcomed him to join Rivendell workouts and matches.

Lindahl’s presence appeals to Bonnett on two other fronts. Both are left-handers. Bonnett also is a TA graduate and was a member of the school’s only state championship golf team those two decades back.

“I didn’t play basketball my senior year and I regret it, so I just said, ‘Make a decision you’re not going to regret,’ ” Bonnett said. “I think he’s happy. He enjoys hanging out with the kids and comes out to practice with us. It’s been good.”

Lindahl’s first love is Nordic skiing; he’s been a standout performer with Hanover’s Ford Sayre Ski Council for years. He’s been a soccer regular in the fall for TA, and he’s fluctuated between baseball and club soccer in the spring.

But golf has grown on the 18-year-old Lindahl since he first started coming to Lake Morey six years ago. He lives eight minutes from the course — “It’s my second home, pretty much,” Lindahl said — and he bonded quickly with Bonnett once he joined the country club’s membership.

“I started golf here at Lake Morey when I was 12,” Lindahl recalled. “I just went out with a friend and kind of hacked around, but it was fun. ... I just figured it would be nice to represent Thetford, get some scores in the paper, kind of hopefully get a start to the program in the next few years.”

The Vermont Principals Association considers golf an individual sport; athletes at schools without teams can’t employ the VPA’s member-to-member program in order to join another school’s squad. Because of that, Lindahl is responsible for all aspects of participation.

He has to use his golf cart of choice, a Toyota RAV4, to drive himself to Rivendell practices and away matches. It’s delivered him to four matches so far: He started with runner-up results behind Hartford’s Brady Hathorn at Morey on May 2 and Proctor’s Nick Ojala at Rutland Country Club on Monday. Lindahl has won his last two starts, shooting a 7-over-par 42 on the Woodstock Country Club front nine on Tuesday and netting a solid 4-over 38 with six pars on Morey’s front side on Thursday.

Athleticism works in Lindahl’s favor off the tee thanks to a compact swing that produces booming drives. He greeted two playing partners, Rivendell’s Jake Kamel and Windsor’s Jacob Curtis, with a 320-yard bomb off Morey’s second tee, splitting the fairway perfectly with his first swing of Thursday’s outing.

Lindahl admitted a need to work on his short game; it occasionally showed on Thursday. What could have been a surefire birdie on 2 turned to bogey when he rushed a 3-foot par putt off the right lip of the cup.

But Lindahl also showed unusual patience on the par-4 eighth, chipping back to the fairway after launching his drive to the left of the tree-lined target to minimize potential damage.

“I think what happened in previous years was baseball was interfering with his golf swing, so when he started playing after school was out, he struggled for the first two, three weeks,” Bonnett said. “This year, he didn’t have that hurdle and was able to dive right in the mix and overcome it.

“He’s certainly confident in his game and his ability. He obviously made some great decisions out there. How many kids have you seen (punch out of trouble)? How many adults have you seen do that? He has this innate, natural sense.”

To make states, Lindahl will have to get through May 30’s D-III qualifying tournament at Brattleboro Country Club. As many as two dozen schools could be represented by teams or individuals; Lindahl would need a top-five result in the individual standings to make the field for the D-III finals on June 7 at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Vermont National Country Club in South Burlington. Rivendell’s Ryan Landgraf won the D-III medal at Middlebury College’s Ralph Myhre Golf Course, winning a playoff after shooting a round of 84; that kind of score seems to be within Lindahl’s capabilities.

“I try not to think about, but I definitely do think I have a shot at medaling at states,” Lindahl said, “if I can just keep my scoring low for now and come into it with some good rounds under my belt.”

Golf, for now is a “hobby,” as Lindahl put it. Nordic skiing remains his focus as he heads to Waitsfield’s Green Mountain Valley School in the fall for a season of competition and post-graduate study. He hopes to ski in college.

But every skier needs something to do once the snow melts. Lindahl has found his place to be for now.

“I think it’s not waiting for someone else to do it,” Lindahl said of taking on high school golf in his final TA spring. “I want to share my passion for the sport with the school and, hopefully, other people. I’ve always loved golf ever since I started, so I said, ‘Why not?’ ”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.