Michael Holtz is usually first in his group to play his second shot, which he said leads to some verbal jabs from teammates and opponents on occasion. The Alton Marquette senior generally lets his score do the responding, because the rest of his golf game tends to make up for his lack of length off the tee.
Holtz is the Explorers' best player and has been throughout his high school career, even though most of his teammates drive the ball farther.
“Every tournament I go to, I'm usually one of the top five shortest hitters there,” Holtz said. “I just kind of bunt it around and beat them, and they can't say much.”
The 6-foot, 140-pound Holtz helped lead the Explorers to a seventh-place finish in Class 2A last fall, and they start their 2016 season Monday in the Hickory Stick Invitational at Belk Park Golf Course in Wood River.
Holtz said he overcomes his lack of length by being precise from tee to green. Alton Marquette coach Pat Moore said it's rare for Holtz to miss a fairway with his driver, and the coach also described his top pupil as a consistently solid ball striker and exceptional putter.
When Holtz does find trouble on the course, fellow Alton Marquette senior Nick Messinger said he's good at wiggling his way out of it. Messinger said he's seen Holtz escape from under a tree by hitting a low line drive that avoids overhanging limbs and runs its way onto the green.
“He's really good at hitting makeshift shots, kind of pulling shots out that you don't really see kids do,” Messinger said. “You're just like, 'Wow.' ”
Holtz's well-rounded game has helped him win six individual tournament titles for the Explorers, according to Moore, and he helped them finish strong as a team last fall. His 5-over-par 76 was Alton Marquette's top score in the second and final round of the state tournament at Weibring Golf Club in Normal, which left him in a tie for 25th place individually.
The result was the product of a lifetime in golf for the 17-year-old Holtz, who has been around the game since before he can remember. Rolling Hills Golf Course in Godfrey, the Explorers' home course, was owned and operated by his mother's family from 1976-2014.
Holtz began playing as a toddler and said he started taking the game seriously at age 10, and he utilizes what Moore called a “homemade swing” and a golf IQ that's beyond his years. Moore said Holtz also gets the mental side of the game and can recover quickly from mistakes, such as when he made a triple bogey during his final state round last year and followed it with three consecutive birdies.
“He's very calm out there. It probably gets on some players' nerves,” Moore said. “He'll shoot even or 3 under and you don't even know it. It's kind of a quiet thing. It's not like he's out there driving greens and two-putting for birdies.”
Holtz also has developed routines that he sticks to religiously, partly out of superstition and also for preparation. He said he tries to eat the same breakfast before every round — oatmeal, yogurt and some form of meat — and then snacks on apples and energy bars when he gets to the course.
He has a consistent driving-range routine as well. Holtz said he always starts with a lob wedge before progressing to a pitching wedge, 7-iron, 3-iron and driver, hitting full and knockdown shots with the shorter three clubs and executing draws, fades and straight shots with each.
“If you were going to teach a golf swing, his would be one that you'd watch video on, for sure,” Moore said. “He has fantastic tempo.”
Holtz said he hopes to play college, and has garnered some interest from NCAA Division II and Division III schools so far, and then pursue some sort of career in golf. Moore said he has the potential to be a touring professional.
In the meantime, Holtz hopes to finish his high school career with his best season yet. And if his performance over the summer is any indication, he's poised to do just that.
Holtz played in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in Ooltewah, Tenn., in July, and more recently earned a spot in The Optimist International Junior Golf Championships at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Holtz didn't make it past the early stages of either event, posting a total of three rounds in the 70s and two in the 80s, but said the experiences made him a better player and gave him confidence heading into his senior season.
He hopes it ends with the Explorers' first state championship, which is a realistic objective for a team that returned all six players from last year's state lineup. Messinger led the team with an 18th-place finish individually, posting back-to-back rounds of 77, and he and Holtz are Alton Marquette's three-year captains.
“The plan's to win state,” Holtz said. “I think we can definitely do that. We just need to play well when it matters.”
Holtz usually leads the way in that regard, even if he doesn't top the competition off the tee.