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Joe Duball's NH Golf: NHIAA golf champ perseveres

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 22. 2017 2:48AM
Bedford's C.J. LaDue won the Division I boys' golf championship last weekend. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

Bedford High's CJ LaDue stood tall when the dust settled following the NHIAA Division I boys' golf individual championship at Portsmouth Country Club last Saturday. The irony for the new D-I champion is he wouldn't have risen above the rest without the help of two healthy feet.

LaDue, who outlasted Nashua North's Bryce Zimmerman by a stroke after two 18-hole rounds, broke his foot not once but twice over the summer and feared his 2017 high school season would be over before it started. The breaks the sophomore endured came to the same bone on separate occasions.

"It was a rough summer," LaDue said. "I broke it the first time on a diving board at a pool party but didn't know I broke it. I actually went and played golf on it the next day."

LaDue continued to play through the pain of what he thought was a minor injury, faring well by his own high standards in the New Hampshire Golf Association events he competed in. The break healed to an extent, but a day on a trampoline in the weeks leading up to the NHGA Amateur Championship caused a more severe break.

"We went about things the same way we did the first time (with the initial break), except it only got a little better over the week leading into the State Am," said LaDue, who made it to the first round of match play at the State Am with the injury. "I was playing well despite being in a lot of pain and really just blocking a significant amount of it out. The last tournament I played was at Beaver Meadow in Concord and it all just kind of hit me.

"I could barely walk on it. I got through to the 15th hole and just called my mom because I knew something was extremely wrong."

The rest of LaDue's summer was spent in a walking boot. He said chipping and putting was the extent of the work he did prior to being cleared by doctors the day before the start of the season.

Under his own admission, LaDue's regular season for the Bulldogs was not anything special and left him little momentum for the team and individual tournaments. However, a United States Challenge Cup event at Bethpage State Golf Courses in Old Bethpage, N.Y., on Oct. 7-8 gave LaDue some hope for himself.

"I was hitting the ball extremely solid and was getting the ball up and down when I missed greens," LaDue said. "I really didn't miss greens, though, and I strung together more birdies than I had been to that point. . I knew my time was coming and that I was close to really bringing everything together."

The premonition proved to be spot on as LaDue fired a 1-over-par 73 at Portsmouth during the D-I team championships on Oct. 10. The score not only led Bedford to a team title but it earned LaDue medalist honors and a spot in the individual tournament four days later.

"We train at Manchester CC, which really plays like Portsmouth CC," LaDue said. "They are both nice courses with true greens. The only thing that changed was playing through some tough wind, which I've done pretty well with because of my ball flight."

A trio of birdies and a slew of pars helped LaDue out to a three-stroke lead after the team tournament. LaDue made life harder on himself Saturday, though, with six bogeys and a late double-bogey to open the door for Zimmerman to play catch-up.

"It's not a great feeling knowing you aren't bringing your best to the table and I knew I wasn't after the first few holes," LaDue said. "You have to stay confident and have your head in a good place. I had shot well during the team round, so it wasn't like I didn't know if I could succeed when I did it a couple days earlier."

LaDue had no idea he needed a birdie on the final hole to beat Zimmerman, who came in with his 74 while LaDue played on a couple groups back, but LaDue said he had a feeling he was going to have to do something and succeeded in executing.

"I had a shot from the left rough on No. 18 from 130 yards and I picked the perfect club to get to 10 feet," LaDue said. "The putt was a little uphill with a couple feet of break to the left so it was not an easy putt, but especially in the moment. Everyone is standing around the green and you want to make that in front of them and your team. I knew it would just take the right speed but more than anything just dealing with the nerves and emotions."

With good health and a championship now in tow, LaDue can look forward to defending his title for years to come. The sophomore joins D-III champion Gunnar Senatore, of Derryfield, and D-IV champion Braxton Brown, of White Mountains, as newly crowned champions that will seek to triumph again next year. Kingswood of Wolfeboro senior Sam Barton came away with the D-II title in his final NHIAA appearance.

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