April 17, 2014

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Boys golf MVP: Roth’s late grandfather fueled his work

Brunswick senior Justin Roth is the 2013 Gazette MVP for boys golf. (GAZETTE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE)

Brunswick golfer Justin Roth had to quit to learn how not to quit.

When Roth was about 10 years old, his grandfather, Gilbert Roth, took him to North Olmsted Golf Club every day during the summer. Transforming his grandson into a PGA player was never Gilbert’s ambition. Forming a bond was.

Naturally, Gilbert was devastated when Justin became frustrated and gave up golf to focus on basketball. But once Justin realized a 4-foot-10, 90-pound eighth-grader has a bleak future on the hardwood, he went back to the tee box.

It was the decision of a lifetime.

Five years later, Roth joined Ben Rudy (2003) as the only Brunswick players to be named Gazette MVP and earned a scholarship to the University of Findlay. The only disappointment is his influential grandfather, who passed away in 2011, didn’t live to see it.

“When I first took (golf) back up, he always wanted to know how I was doing,” Roth said. “He always said, ‘Never quit,’ and, ‘I love watching you play.’ Now whenever I’m going through a slump, I always think about that, and that makes me want to work.

“It sounds like some sappy story, but it’s true.”

Roth’s high school career may have had emotional motivation, but the accomplishments were impressive. Brunswick rolled to the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division championship — its first league title since 1965 — won five tournaments, finished 10-0 in dual matches and came within one stroke of qualifying for the Division I state tournament.

Roth was at the forefront along with fellow seniors Tim Monroe and Jared Toom. Roth stood out with incredible work ethic that forced his teammates to step up their games, as well as his consistency by shooting between 75 and 81 in 10-of-11 tournaments.

The three-year starter finished with a 39.2 average and led the Blue Devils in scoring a team-best eight times.

“He led a lot by example,” longtime coach Jonathan Laube said. “He was out there working all the time, and he and Jared both expected the boys to be out there.”

In a game built around on-the-fly adjustments, Roth’s biggest challenge was never course management. It was adapting to his ever-changing body.

For a time, Roth was convinced the growth spurt would never come because he was 4-10 as an eighth-grader, 5-0 as a freshman and a robust 5-3 as a sophomore. Once he hit 5-9 as a junior, though, his game took off.

Now pushing 6-foot, Roth still must overcome his lack of length off the tee, due in large part to weighing just 135 pounds. It annoyed the right-hander throughout his high school career until he finally realized laying up and scrambling for par — Laube calls Roth’s short game “unreal” — had those big boppers wondering how he had beaten them at the end of the day.

The mentality resulted in consistency Roth never had, but not without help from his teammates. Roth felt Brunswick could contend for a state berth, but the development of seniors Howie Gross and Jake Perdok and junior Eric Bator at the bottom of the lineup made the great season possible.

“It was nice to know later in the season I had backup,” Roth said. “It’s an individual game, but to know I had teammates to back me up took some of the pressure off. I was able to go out and play.

“I was very focused on our goal of going to the state tournament and winning the conference and putting a banner in our gym. That was the one goal I really, really wanted.”

Roth also wanted a college scholarship, but he thought an inconsistent summer had scared away Cleveland State, Ashland and Lake Erie.

Findlay never wavered and, in Roth’s own words, “took a risk.” Roth is driven beyond all measure to ensure it was one worth taking.

Roth carries a 3.3 grade-point average and scored a 25 on the ACT. He will receive a partial scholarship from the Oilers, who finished 11th in the 14-team Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is considered one of the best in D-II.

Leave no doubt, either: Roth won’t quit because his grandfather’s memory won’t allow it.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I remember when I did take (golf) back up, my goal in ninth grade was to play college golf. At the time, I wanted to go huge — one of those top-25 schools — because that’s everyone’s dream. But as time goes on, you realize where you’re at.

“As it is anyways, I’m playing at the Division II level for a program I consider on the rise in a powerhouse Division II conference. That GLIAC is no joke.

“From being 4-10, 90 pounds in eighth grade and hitting my driver 130 yards to where I’m at now, I don’t know how it happened.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.