After winning the Class 5A championship last season, Maize South senior Wells Padgett won’t be able to chase another title on Monday.
Padgett qualified for the 4A tournament in Wamego, but the Auburn signee decided to give up his high school eligibility. He opted to play in Wednesday’s U.S. Open qualifying tournament at Wichita Country Club, making him ineligible for the high school tournament by the rules of the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
“It sucks because I believe I should have the opportunity to do both,” Padgett said. “Everything is backwards here and it makes zero sense. This is the time to make a statement about it and to do it for all the kids down the road. We’re at a disadvantage in Kansas as golfers, and in other sports, too, because (this rule) makes it harder for us to get our names out and get recruited by bigger colleges.”
Padgett shot a 6-over 77 Wednesday to finish tied for 15th. Professional Josh Weems of Lake Quivira and amateur Landon Fox shot even-par 71s to advance to sectional qualifying.
The reason behind the KSHSAA rule, which has been in place for more than two decades, is to protect high school teams from having players leave during the season to compete in an outside competition.
“Kansas high schools have had a long-standing philosophy that when you sign up to compete on your high school team, then you made a commitment to be on that school team for the duration of the season,” said Jeremy Holaday, a KSHSAA assistant executive director.
Padgett counters that the rule only made him decide which memorable experience he had to forfeit — a chance to qualify for the U.S. Open or a chance to defend a state title in his senior year.
Padgett said if Maize South qualified its entire team in Monday’s regional tournament, he would have played in the state tournament. But he sees no reason why playing in a U.S. Open qualifier Wednesday was a hindrance, distraction, or interferes with Monday’s state tournament.
“The only thing that would happen is I would miss practice on Wednesday and I’m pretty sure my coach wouldn’t mind me missing one day to play in a U.S. Open qualifier, which is better than practice,” Padgett said.
Kapaun Mount Carmel coach Dan Harrison, who has also coached at the collegiate level, thinks Wells’ decision will bring change.
“I applaud him for making a statement,” Harrison said. “Some people are going to disagree with it, but I do have to commend him for his courage because it’s going to take someone with the pedigree like his — he’s not just one of the best players in Kansas, but in the region — to take a stand like this. Maybe we need to listen to what he’s saying and look at what we can do.”
Holaday said there is a proposal in front of the KSHSAA executive board that would make exemptions to the rule for golfers to play in rare tournaments such as an Open qualifier. The executive board has tabled the proposal and is scheduled to discuss it in June.
Harrison thinks an open mind will be needed for change to happen going forward.
“I think we have to start loosening up some of these preconceived ideas about what should happen and allow our young people to achieve their best,” Harrison said. “If a young person is talented enough to compete at that high of a level, then I think we as a state need to be there for them and support them the best we can and not make them make decisions like this.”