Poplar Bluff coach Billy Pyland is ready to dole out the secret to a successful program.
"I think it's great parents, starting them young, and they're coachable kids," Pyland said. "Those are the keys."
There's the formula. Time to start working on those championships.
Poplar Bluff rolled to its fourth straight SEMO Conference crown Tuesday at Dalhousie Golf Club, this time topping runner-up Jackson by 30 strokes.
"They've got a dominating golf team," Jackson coach Ron Cook said. "And the Poplar Bluff kids handle themselves so well. They don't throw it in your face. We hope they win state."
The Mules, fifth in the state last year, will be chasing their seventh state championship as a program Monday and Tuesday at Fremont Hills Country Club in Springfield. Poplar Bluff won its last state title back in 1996 and has had a number of close finishes in recent years, including second by two strokes in 2005 and third in 2004.
Poplar Bluff looked to be in pretty good form Tuesday, with its largest margin of victory in its four-year run. The Mules had beaten Central by one, 19 and nine strokes over the last three years.
The Mules were led by senior Tyler Hillis, who shot a 3-under-par 69 in a round that featured an eagle on No. 6 and five birdies. Younger brother Trenton Hillis, a freshman, followed with a 74. All five Mules players came to the clubhouse in 86 or better; no other team could manage more than two players to stay with 14 strokes of par.
Jackson was led by senior T.J. Smith, who was third overall with a 75.
Smith and the younger Hillis were rewarded for their scores with exemptions to the American Junior Golf Association's inaugural Dalhousie Junior Classic, scheduled for June 18 through 20. University of Missouri-bound Tyler Hillis, who played on the AJGA circuit last year, is too old for the tour this year.
"It's nice," Smith said of the AJGA berth, but he wasn't altogether pleased with his round.
He had shot a 77 at Dalhousie on April 19 to win the inaugural Saxony Lutheran tourney back, and he posted an 80 at Eagle Lake in Farmington in last week's district tournament.
"I double-bogeyed the last hole, so I was a little disappointed there," said Smith, who will be Jackson's sole representative at the state tournament. "I started out with a bogey and then made 10 pars in a row.
"I feel good about the way I'm playing. I just have to start making some putts. I didn't make many of them today."
The Indians had finished a disappointing ninth, 21 shots behind Central, eight days ago at the 10-team Class 4 district tournament in Farmington, where Poplar Bluff earned its state berth with a 317.
"I'm happy we came back and played better in this tournament than we did in the district," Cook said. "I'm really happy with A.J. [Balsman]. He's a senior and he bounced back today."
Balsman shot an 83 and was among the 10 golfers whose scores qualified them for a May 20 tournament at Dalhousie that will include players from throughout the region -- including St. Louis, southern Illinois and western Kentucky -- and serve as a qualifier for the AJGA event. Three boys spots and one girls berth are expected to be on the line.
Also in that group were Central's Jack Connell, alone in fourth with 79; Central's Jordan Sheets, tied for fifth with an 81; and Notre Dame's Brett Slaten and Brandon Pleimann, who tied for 12th with 85s.
Those with 89 or better will be on an alternate list for the qualifier.
Notre Dame, Central and Jackson each have one golfer in that group. Jack Wedemeier shot an 87 for the Bulldogs to tie for 15th; state qualifier Tim Simmons shot an 88 for Central to tie for 19th; and Jackson's Joe Schulze fired an 89.
Rounding out Jackson's scoring was Brian Hill with a 91.
Central finished six strokes behind Jackson with a team score of 344, which was rounded out by Cole Viers' 96.
Notre Dame was four strokes behind Central in fourth place. John Oliver shot a 91 to round out the Bulldogs' scoring, while teammate Austin Gelsheimer was one stroke behind him.
Click to see complete tournament scores.