ASHLAND — Dan Priest has been telling anyone who would listen for two years now and Ashland’s golf coach is beginning to win over converts all across the state.
As far as Priest is concerned, senior Tyler Sabo is the best high school golfer in Ohio.
Sabo’s quest to prove his coach correct begins Tuesday when the Arrows tee off at the Division I sectional tournament at Sycamore Springs Golf Course near Findlay. Ashland is the defending sectional champ.
Already a two-time All-Ohioan, Sabo will look to lead Ashland back to the state tournament for a third straight year. The Arrows finished 11th in 2019 and were eighth in 2020.
An Ohio State recruit, Sabo already has authored one of the greatest high school careers in Ashland’s storied golf history. He is the Ohio Cardinal Conference’s first three-time Player of the Year, a two-time sectional medalist and a two-time district champ. He will look to become Ashland’s fourth state tournament medalist, joining Tom Castor (1968), Steve Paramore (1997) and Bobby Castor (1999) later this month at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
“You’re going to get bias from me, but I think he’s the best player in the state,” Priest said after Sabo led the Arrows to the Ohio Cardinal Conference tournament championship at Mohican Hills. “He showed it during the summer and he’s continued to show it this fall.”
Sabo jump-started his dominant stretch in May, shooting an even-par 71 at the U.S. Open local qualifier at Beechmont Country Club in Beachwood. He was one of just seven golfers in a field of 120 to earn a bid to the Columbus final qualifier for the 2021 U.S. Open — one of 12 U.S. Open final qualifying events.
At the final qualifier in early June at Brookside Golf and Country Club and The Lakes Golf and Country Club in suburban Columbus, Sabo shot a two-day 2-over 146. He tied for 58th in a field of 120 elite golfers.
It was during the U.S. Open final qualifier that Ohio State ramped up its recruitment. Sabo chose Ohio State over Cincinnati and Kent State.
“I had three coaches watch me all day,” Sabo said. “I got a text after and they said they wanted to set up a meeting to come down. They gave my parents a tour of the indoor facility and then we sat down and they offered me.
“It was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
The pressure of playing in the U.S. Open final qualifier was compounded by the realization that Sabo was auditioning for the Ohio State coaching staff.
“It was the first experience that I’ve had with coaches following me around because COVID kind of shut down in-person recruiting,” Sabo said. “I had one of my (high school) teammates on the bag and we didn’t worry about the coaches. I just tried to pretend they were like any other spectator.”
Later that month, Sabo won the Ohio Golf Association Junior Championship by six strokes at Zanesville Country Club. He shot a two-day total of 9-under 135.
“He also won a couple of American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events, which are national events. With all the work he has put in, I think his game will translate to the collegiate level,” Priest said. “He’s probably got more length than any of the guys on the college team now. He’s got (PGA) Tour length.
“It’s a different step from high school to college. He’s got some steps he’s got to take but he’s willing to take them. He loves to practice and he’s always trying to improve.”
Sabo’s star began to rise during his freshman year. He finished second behind teammate Max Watson at the sectional at Mohawk Golf & Country Club. Ashland qualified for the district as a team that year, but finished seventh at Red Hawk Run. Watson qualified for the state tournament individually, while Sabo carded an 86, tying for ninth.
As a sophomore in 2019, Sabo tied for first at the Mohawk sectional with a 77 and tied for first at the Sycamore Springs district with a 74, leading Ashland to its first state tournament appearance since 2010. Ashland shot a 688 as a team, finishing 11th. Sabo tied for eighth individually with a 152.
During last year’s sectional tournament at Sycamore Springs, Sabo carded a 72 to win medalist honors by three strokes. He followed up with arguably the most impressive performance of his high school career to date, shooting a 71 in the wind and rain at Findlay Country Club for a six-stroke victory at the district tournament.
Ashland won the district team title with a 325, qualifying for the state tournament for the 24th time in program history. The Arrows placed eighth at state the following week with a 642. Sabo carded a 151, good for a tie for seventh place.
Sabo made more history this season, becoming the first golfer in the Ohio Cardinal Conference’s 19-year history to win the Player of the Year award three straight years. He sealed the deal by winning medalist honors with a 1-over 73 in woeful playing conditions two weeks ago at Mohican Hills.
“Those were the worst conditions we’ve played in all year with the cold and wind and rain. It reminded me of last year’s district tournament,” Sabo said at the time. “It doesn’t really bother me. You’ve got to adjust and adapt, but everybody has to do it.
“It’s only going to get colder as the year goes on so it’s good to get used to playing in these conditions.”
Ashland should again be in the hunt for a state berth. The journey begins Tuesday at Sycamore Springs.
“Getting back to state has always been our goal,” Sabo said. “There are some good teams (in the Northwest District) but if we continue to work hard, we should be fine.”