Golfing trio aims for fantastic finish

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
From left, Middleton golfers Emmet Herb, Brady Thomas and Joey Levin are hoping to close their high school careers in style./Photo courtesy of Annie Herb

Andy Bernard, the insecure, quirky salesman from “The Office” once said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

Emmet Herb, Joey Levin and Brady Thomas — three senior standouts for Middleton’s boys golf team — seem wise beyond their years and fully understand this premise.

Sitting at a table overlooking beautiful Pleasant View Golf Course last week, the trio fondly recalls golfing together as juniors, nearly a decade ago. They all agree that when one has a girl problem, it becomes a team effort to solve the puzzle.

And they good-naturedly needle Herb for having one of the state’s most passionate and proud mothers in Annie.

“Four years with these guys. I mean, for me, that’s been awesome,” Levin said. “I’m just trying to take in every moment because every moment could be our last.”

And perhaps their best.

This threesome has already made their mark on Middleton history. The one thing that’s eluded them, though, is a WIAA Division 1 state championship.

That could be coming in the next week, though.

Middleton was the favorite to win Wednesday’s Onalaska Sectional. If the Cardinals could emerge from there, they’d earn a third straight trip to the state meet, which will be held Monday and Tuesday at University Ridge Golf Course.

Middleton is ranked No. 2 in the latest state poll. And if the Cardinals can get back to University Ridge, they’ll certainly be among the favorites to capture the crown.

“I think I’ve wanted to win a state championship since about the fourth or fifth grade,” Herb said. “It’s pretty important to all of us.”

When this trio has set their mind to something on the golf course, they’ve usually achieved it.

Middleton traditionally has one of the strongest programs in the state, which means freshmen rarely play varsity. But Thomas, Herb and Levin all broke through from day one, marking the first time the Cardinals ever had three freshmen make their top five.

Middleton failed to make the state tournament in that 2013 season, in part because it was playing in the state’s toughest sectional. But the Cardinals have been a force the last three seasons.

In 2014, Middleton finished fourth at state, just nine shots behind Division 1 champion Homestead. Last year, the Cardinals settled for fifth at state.

While many programs would have loved such results, it wasn’t what Levin, Herb, Thomas and the rest of the Cardinals wanted.

“We just could never get in a groove at state last year,” Thomas said. “If we can make it back, hopefully we’ll be a little more relaxed.”

The Cardinals have played like a relaxed group this season. In fact, Herb jokes how an opposing player recently told him he’d love to play for MHS because the team appeared to be having so much fun.

And why wouldn’t these Cardinals be having the time of their young lives?

After winning the Middleton Regional last week, the Cardinals had finished first in 15 of 17 events this season. Middleton ran away with the Big Eight Conference dual meet title and the conference championship. The Cardinals also finished first at star-studded tournaments such as the Waukesha South Invite held at Bristlecone Pines, the Morgan Stanley Shootout at University Ridge, the Sheboygan North Invite at Whistling Straits’ Irish Course and the Madison Memorial Invite held at Blackhawk Country Club.

“I had no idea we had done that well until (a reporter) told me,” Herb said. “I thought there were a bunch of times we weren’t first. That’s pretty cool.”


Middleton’s success the past four years is largely due to one of the best trios in school history.

Levin and Thomas attended Kromrey Middle School, while Herb went to Glacier Creek. But they’ve all known each other more than a decade thanks to golf — a sport where one is more passionate than the next.

Herb says he started playing golf around his house by 2- or 3-years old. Herb’s parents took him on a course when he was 4, and he was playing in tournaments by the time he was six.

“I remember playing a par-3 and shooting a 54 when I was really little,” Herb said. “I was going nuts.”

Levin learned to crawl by chasing after Fisher Price golf balls. By the time Levin was 4, his father, Ken, was taking him to courses.

Levin actually enjoyed soccer more than golf for much of his childhood. By seventh grade, though, he was “all-in” on golf.

“That’s when I first started taking it seriously,” Levin said.

Thomas was hitting balls at the Bridges Golf Course when he was 2. And while Thomas is a good athlete who played varsity basketball the last two years, he’s always been a golfer first and foremost.

“I remember sacrificing other sports to play golf. Quitting sports,” Thomas said. “Hoops kind of helped me stay in shape and keep my athleticism. But it’s always been golf.”
When the three came together at Middleton High School, the timing was perfect for them to make their mark. The Cardinals had lost three seniors from their 2012 team, and Levin, Thomas and Herb were ready to show their stuff.

“We had a few openings and they obviously had a lot of talent,” Middleton coach Tom Cabalka said earlier this spring. “It’s worked out pretty well.”

And how.

Herb, who weighs 130 pounds soaking wet, has a sensational swing and a terrific short game. Herb’s second home is the golf course, and it’s showed in his continued growth.

Herb has earned first-team all-Big Eight Conference honors three straight years and was named honorable-mention all-state in 2015. He’ll also continue his golfing career at St. Thomas (Minn.), one of the top Division 3 programs in the country.

“Emmett continues to work so hard and he refuses to be mediocre,” Cabalka said of Herb. “He’s had great drive for this game since he was 8 or 9 years old. This is his game and he just keeps getting better at it.”

Levin has improved as much as anyone in the program in years. Levin was a second-team all-conference player in 2014, was runner-up for league Player of the Year honors in 2015, then was recently named the Big Eight’s Player of the Year in 2016.

“I think the big thing with me is when things aren’t going well, I’ve become better at grinding it out,” Levin said.

Thomas was a first-team all-Big Eight Conference player as a sophomore and finished second in the league’s Player of the Year race that spring. Thomas slipped to second-team all-Big Eight in 2015, then rebounded with a terrific 2016 that saw him earn first-team all-conference honors again.

“I think I put too much pressure on myself last year,” said Thomas, who will play next season at UW-Eau Claire. “This year has been a lot better.”


Now, this trio will aim for their very own Peyton Manning-ending.

In a few short months, this terrific threesome will all have different zip codes. Levin is going to the University of Wisconsin as a student, while Thomas and Herb are off to play collegiate golf.

The good old days are soon to be just that.

“It seems crazy that it’s almost over, that any meet could be our last one,” Herb said. “None of us want it to end.”

If Middleton does make it back to state, it figures to have plenty of firepower to make a title run.

In addition to the “Big Three”, fellow senior Nils Arneson has improved his game dramatically. Arneson, a transfer from Madison East in 2014-’15, was recently named second-team all-Big Eight and has had his best season with the Cardinals.

Sophomore Andy Zucker is incredibly gifted, as well, and provides hope for the present and the future.

But if Middleton is going to hoist gold, Thomas, Herb and Levin will need to be at their best. And for three of the better golfers the program has seen, a state title would be the perfect sendoff.

“I feel like the team is not so much worried about winning it, but we just want to play well,” Levin said. “If we play well and someone happens to go lower, we didn’t lose it. They won it. We just want to go and play well and see what happens.”


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