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'Championships are not by chance'

Reflections. After their fifth-straight boys Section 7AA golf championship and Minnesota Class AA state tournament appearance, Cloquet head coach Aaron Young and senior captain Karson Patten shared their thoughts on the reasons and maybe even secrets of the team's success. Young, a Cloquet golf alumnus himself, has been the coach since 2020.

"We've been fortunate at Cloquet to have a string of gifted and dedicated student athletes who also happened to have a passion for golf. It became a pride thing ... let's see what we can do to continue the Section champ winning streak," Young said.

Just a little recap of recent history: The Lumberjacks finished fourth at the Class AA state golf tournament in 2018, and third in 2019. The golf season was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but the Cloquet boys roared back the next year. The Lumberjacks took first place, both as a team at the 2021 state meet and with Sam Baker as the individual state champion. In 2022 they placed fifth as a team and Karson Patten tied for sixth place at state. This year Patten tied for second while the team placed third.

Championships are not by chance. Aaron and his brother/assistant coach Kyle Young, Cloquet Country Club pro/manager Bill Manahan, and high school team players annually organize a summer golf camp for area youth at the Cloquet Country Club. The summer program has been running for 15-plus years and usually has 25-30 boys and girls playing.

"Here's our program's future," Aaron said, beaming.

Kids from the area sign up for the weeklong program, which includes skill development (putting, chipping, and driving) and also rules and etiquette.

"We divide them up by age and years of experience and steer them to hopefully find some success and develop interest." Aaron said.

Young shared that Cloquet had won the section title before he became head coach, so the pipeline of golf talent was already flowing. John Horbacz was the previous coach and, like Young, was a teacher at the Cloquet Middle School. Horbacz was leaving town for another teaching opportunity and the golf coaching vacancy was posted.

"I waited to see if there were other coaches in the wings waiting, and when no one else stepped forward, I decided to give it a shot," Aaron said. He spent the following winter studying books on golf coaching strategy, such as Dr. Rob Rotella's "My Ten Rules on Mental Fitness." Young's own coaching has evolved. Now course management has become his most important training key.

"It's nice to have the Cloquet Country Club, a championship course, so close and convenient," Aaron said. "The coaches will set up the club for players prepping for tournament time to resemble the Quarry or other state courses. We try to imprint that the driver may not be your first option off the tee on every par 4."

The head coach gave credit to his assistant coaches, parents and grandparents, and other volunteers as essential for continued team support and success.

"My brother Kyle does a bang-up job," he said. "He takes kids to tournaments when I'm not available, is excellent at spotting things on players' swings, and, in general, makes things positive for the kids," Aaron said. "With parents often working, grandparents can become integral modes of transportation to events. Steve Fiske also volunteered where needed."

With the Young coaches both having kids on the boys team and nieces on the Cloquet girls team, Minnesota state tournaments have become a regular family reunion.

But the team is a family too. That was evident at the state tournament last week when three players - Sam Baker, Jacob Walsh and Trevor Steinert - from the 2021 state championship came to watch both days.

"Such a family they are and will always be tied together," shared Jodi Patten, Karson's mom and a staunch supporter of the team.

Karson Patten has been on the CHS team since seventh grade. He could have been a five-time state participant, but the pandemic got in the way. Each year his placing bettered, ending with second place at state in 2023. Karson was very proud of his team's finish this year.

"All year long we were battling Hermantown, knowing that one of our teams would likely win the Section. At the Quarry golf course, after Day 1 of the tournament, we were about 15 strokes ahead. It was gratifying and a smooth Day 2 section victory," he said.

When I called Karson for the interview, he was on the sixth tee at CCC. We picked another time later in the day to talk and I asked him to think about his most memorable golf shots and scores in the meantime.

When we reconnected, he told me: "Guess what, you asked for my most memorable shot ... it happened right after we talked, I got a hole-in-one on No. 7. Blue tees, 195 yards, into the wind, with a five-iron. It was great."

Over the last winter, Karson lost 60 pounds by changing his diet and working out. He was soon going to be in his senior year and shortly after that, collegiate golf at Minnesota State Mankato. He wanted to be prepared. A few years ago, his dad said if Karson helped build a garage, he'd put a golf simulator attachment on it. All this past winter, he and his teammates were often there hitting golf balls. The machine measures swing speed, club contact, distance and more.

"To be the best takes a lot of work, on and off the course," Karson said.

The now Cloquet golfing alumnus said he would encourage younger boys and girls to consider coming out for the golf team.

"It's super-fun," he said. "Especially when you're winning."

Expect that tradition to continue. With the return of six golfers all capable of shooting in the 70s, Cloquet should be the 2024 Section 7AA boys high school golf favorites, along with Hermantown.

Congrats on a wonderful 2023 season.

Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].

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