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Bruening bounces back with career-best effort to help Althoff win St. Clair championship

Bruening bounces back with career-best effort to help Althoff win St. Clair championship

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SHILOH — Max Bruening made a big mistake.

And learned a huge lesson in the process.

The Althoff sophomore suffered a major meltdown during the tradition-rich Goalby/Haas Invitational last week.

Following a bad shot, Bruening hurled his club in disgust, bouncing it off his golf bag.

That's a no-no at any level.

"He's better than that," Althoff coach Dan Polites said. "He knows better."

Bruening immediately knew he made a mistake and wanted to take it back.

"I let my emotions get the best of me," Bruening said.

So the 15-year-old had to suffer the consequences. He was suspended for Monday's dual match against Edwardsville, a contest the Crusaders lost.

After stewing fort 24 hours, Bruening came out with a point to prove.

"I wanted to show people I could bounce back, forget about what I did — and move on," he said.

Bruening did just that — and so much more.

The diminutive right-hander fired a career-best 71 to claim medalist honors Tuesday in the St. Clair County Invitational at Tamarack Golf Course. Bruening shaved a whopping five strokes off his previous best.

His even-par score was two shots ahead of teammate Avery Irwin (73), who placed second. Logan Messinger, of Belleville East, was third with a 77.

That one-two punch spelled the difference for Althoff, which edged O'Fallon 312-322 for the team championship.

Bruening recorded four birdies and could have broken 70 were it not for a double bogey late in the round.

"My putting was really good," Bruening said. "I made them when I needed to."

Bruening comes from a golf family. His older brother Jack helped the Crusaders to a second-place finish at the Class 1A state tournament last fall. Jack is playing at Illinois Wesleyan College. Parker Bruening, a freshman, also contributed to Tuesday's win with an 85, good for 12th overall.

Max has the ability to be the best of the Bruening bunch.

"There's a lot of talent there," Polites said. "He's got the tools."

Bruening's one-match penalty was approved by his mother, Heather, who approached Polites with the suggestion for potential punishment.

"He told his parents his actions didn't require sitting out a match," Polites said. "They were adamant about it. So was I."

Added Heather, "He deserved what he got."

Bruening was near flawless in his 3-hour, 45-minute bounce-back round. He capped it off with a highlight-reel 7-iron shot on the final hole that landed within three feet of the pin from 145 yards out.

The Crusaders needed every bit of Bruening's mastery to hold off O'Fallon in a battle between two of the area's top teams.

The Panthers started off well but struggled down the stretch.

"We all simultaneously hit a wall," O'Fallon coach Matt Hackmann said.

Polites was pleased with the win and the strong overall team effort. He said that regular-season tournament wins carry more importance now since the IHSA canceled all fall state championship tournaments on Monday.

The veteran coach informed his team of the IHSA decision moments after the loss to Edwardsville.

"There were some tears, both players and parents," Polites said. "One player just put his head down and walked out without saying anything."

Hackmann also struggled while informing his team.

"I went numb," he said. "There was nothing to say. It's not like you can cheer them up with a rah-rah speech."

The Crusaders finished one shot behind Mater Dei in last year's state tournament. The players were looking forward to a rematch this time around.

"It's so hard, especially for the seniors," Max Bruening said.

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