Peru senior golfer Kash Bellar converted a short putt on the 18th hole to finish his round Wednesday, gave a small fist pump, shook hands with his playing partners and the assembled coaches, and stepped off the green.
There he hugged his mom and dad, took some congratulations from friends nearby and went to the tent to check and sign his scorecard. Bellar entered Wednesday’s second and final round of the IHSAA State Finals leading by three strokes after Tuesday’s play, then shot a second straight round of 3-under 69 Wednesday. With no scoreboards on course, all he knew was his score and those of his playing partners.
“I go to my coach and say, ‘How is it looking?’ and he says, ‘You have a seven-shot lead,” Bellar said.
“Sweet,” the Bengal Tiger senior replied.
He had set a pace no one could match.
Bellar pulled away from the field Wednesday to finish the state finals as the runaway champion with a two-day total of 6-under 138 at Prairie View G.C. in Carmel. He won by an impressive eight shots.
Also Wednesday, Kokomo’s Brandon Hansen shot 76 for a two-day total of 156 to tie for 31st, and Tipton’s Maverick Conaway shot 81 to finish at 165, tied for 64th.
While Bellar didn’t know how anyone else was playing, he knew he was doing his part to win. He birdied Nos. 1, 5 and 11, and hit an eagle on No. 7 to offset a couple bogeys. He cruised to the finish line with seven straight pars and was the only player to post red numbers on either day of the state tourney.
“There’s no scoreboards out here and I wasn’t shown anything, but as soon as I made the turn I felt like if I kept doing my thing, I would have a really good shot of winning,” Bellar said. “As soon as I got done, my coach told me I had a seven-shot lead, so I thought well, that’s going to be pretty hard to beat.”
Bellar’s nearest competitors finished eight strokes off his pace for a mammoth victory in a tournament he’s been focused on since he entered high school.
“It’s been my goal since freshman year to have a state title. After making it through regionals at Swan Lake I felt like my game, it’s in the right place,” Bellar said. He’d tied for fourth overall at the Plymouth Regional last Thursday to book his spot in the state finals. “I felt like I’m making progressions in my game to make sure I’m peaking at the right time.
“At the first hole [Tuesday], I felt like it’s my golf tournament to lose. I had that much confidence in myself to do it.”
He was confident in his play but had no control over anyone else’s. Golfing as an individual qualifier, Bellar started early and had to wait for the full teams to finish before the leaderboard was finalized. That took about three hours. The first hour was tense, but nobody made a move on his score and he realized the state title was looking more and more likely.
With that, the reality of the title started hitting home.
“I had a pretty good moment with my family, kind of reflecting on it,” Bellar said as the final groups finished play, after he was mathematically assured of the title, and before the medal ceremony. “It’s probably going to hit a little harder on the ride home.”
In his previous trip to state at two years ago as a sophomore, Bellar shot a 70 the opening day for a share of the lead and a 77 the second day to finish tied for eighth.
“The main difference this week was knowing that it’s going to be slow,” Bellar said. “Two years ago I was in the first group for the second day and we came to a wall on hole 13 and we waited for 20 minutes on the fairway and that kind of screwed with me and messed it up for me.
“This year I came with the mindset that it’s going to be slow and I’m going to have to go at my own pace.”
At that time of the 2019 state meet, Bellar had only played two tournaments at Prairie View — that year’s state finals, and an Indiana Golf Association junior event.
Bellar didn’t get a chance to qualify for state as a junior because the IHSAA spring season was canceled in response to the pandemic. So Bellar and future Ball State teammate Andrew Todd of Bloomington South decided they’d use some of that down time to head to Prairie View on their own. Todd shot 154 to tie for 21st and help Bloomington South take fourth. Center Grove won the team title with a 606, one shot better than Guerin Catholic.
Bellar said he and friends played Prairie View six or seven times last year and developed a comfort level with the course. He thought as a sophomore the course suited him well and felt even better about it this time around.
“It’s a second-shot golf course,” Bellar said. “This week, I put myself in a lot of good opportunities to make some putts.”
He built momentum on the front side, going out in 34, highlighted by the eagle on No. 7.
“It was a good bunker shot I hit. I was going to make birdie on the hole whether I hit it in the hole or not,” Bellar said, noting had he not eagled it, his approach was going to stop close to the cup. “After that, I’m like, ‘I’m in control. My swing is feeling good’ and I kept putting myself in good spots where I wasn’t going to make anything worse than a par.”
His last bogey Wednesday was on No. 6 and he was 3-under for the last dozen holes.
Even before the winner’s medal was around his neck, he had time to think about winning and what went into it.
“Oh …,” Bellar said with an exhale and pause as he contemplated the satisfaction of winning the title, “it’s just hard work that me, my coaches, my family and friends [have put in]. There’s a list of people that I need to thank and not enough time to thank them. Really it’s just me staying with them and staying with our plan of knowing that I can do it. I’ve just got to thank them for seeing it in me as well as believing in me.”
Per the IHSAA, Bellar’s winning margin of eight strokes was the most in the state finals since the 36-hole format was adopted in 1970.