Even at 175 yards straight downhill, the first hole at Nine Springs GC in Fitchburg isn't exactly the easiest starting hole on the planet.
But Maxamillian Xiong tuned out the creek that runs the length of the right side of the hole, including the portion that juts out about 130 yards from the tee and blocks the view of a small green. He paid no attention to the trees that line the left side of the hole and leave a somewhat narrow path from tee to green.
The River Falls golfer kept his focus just left of the target and launched his tee shot in the general vicinity of the green. He wasn't able to get up-and-down to save par on that hole, but he did very little else wrong that hot August day in 2014 when he played in the same group as my son in a Wisconsin PGA Futures Tour event and shot a 1-over-par 31 to win his age group.
Xiong went birdie-birdie on Nos. 3 and 4, two short par-4s that — for the WPGA Futures Tour crowd — can be a bit intimidating because of the forced carries on each. He went bogey-bogey on Nos. 5 and 6, the two short par-3s where all shots must be struck with a trajectory that keeps them below the massive trees whose branches connect one side of the fairway to the other.
Of course, by that point, Xiong's name had already started to resonate within his circle of competitors as it will this spring when he enters the high-school ranks as the No. 1-ranked golfer in the boys Class of 2021 by Wisconsin.Golf.
Xiong had won all three starts he made on the Futures Tour in his debut season of WPGA Junior golf in 2013 starting with the annual opener at Vitense Golfland in Madison, where he shot a 1-over 28. And he hasn't let up.
His 2014 season began in Wisconsin with a victory at the Futures Tour event on the executive course at Door Creek GC in Cottage Grove. He shot a 2-under 28 there with seven pars and birdies on the second and ninth holes.
Between his work on the Wisconsin and Minnesota PGA Junior circuits, Xiong has played 111 events since 2012. He has won 29 of them, including 12 in 2015 on Minnesota's Transitions Tour (9) and Wisconsin's Futures Tour (3).
Despite his lofty resume, Xiong's No. 1 ranking among this year's crop of boys high school newcomers isn't quite as pronounced as the gap between Bay Port's Jo Baranczyk and the field in the girls Class of 2021 rankings.
West Bend's Addison Raimer has played 96 WPGA Junior events over the last five years and won 11 of them. Like Xiong, he has expanded his portfolio from nine-hole Futures events to the 18-hole Junior Tour events, breaking 80 in three of his 19 starts on the Junior Tour this past summer.
Mequon's Christian Staudt, Plover's Logan Pechinksi and Marinette's Ty Kretz rounded out the top five. Staudt had the best finish of the three Class of 2021 golfers to make the 54-hole cut at the WSGA State Junior Boys Championship this past summer, placing 78th overall (247) while Xiong tied for 79th (248) and Raimer finished 90th (266) competing in the 14-and-under age group.
Franklin's John Mirsberger, Appleton's Charlie Schubbe, Kenosha's Dylan Moore, Jackson's Ethan Draeger and Monticello's Peter Gustafson comprise back half of the top 10 in this year's freshman class.
Gustafson's arrival to the high school ranks has prompted his high school, located between New Glarus and Monroe in Green County, to add boys golf and form a cooperative program with Belleville. The program will become the third high school program to make Edelweiss Chalet CC in New Glarus its home course (joining New Glarus and Verona) while also utilizing Monroe CC. It will play an independent schedule this spring and compete in the WIAA Division 2 Platteville sectional before joining the Capitol Conference in 2019.