IRONTON — Participating in any sport, especially at a high level, takes a great deal of accountability and discipline.
When one trains himself or herself to be accountable and have self-discipline for a long period of time, the results then usually bear fruit not only inside of the sports arena, but outside of it as well.
Josh Zornes, a 2016 Shawnee State University graduate and an outstanding golfer who is easily one of the best the school has seen in the sport, is a prime example of a person who used sports as a template for how to raise the bar across the board.
Zornes, who finished his career by posting 23 consecutive rounds in the 70s, paired a calm demeanor on the golf course with a tenacious mindset off of it — developing into one of Shawnee State’s best green clubbers in school history.
Now a 26-year old in the workforce, Zornes looks back at those days with fond memories — not just of the rounds that he shot, but of the man he became with the help of his teammates and coaches at the high school and college levels.
“The thing that stands out to me, to this day, is what a great supporting cast I had with my coaches, friends and family,” Zornes said. “Without them, I don’t have the success that I have in college. (Roger) Merb and (Dave) Hopkins being there and getting my confidence up whenever I was down or when I was playing good and telling me to just keep the grind going was huge for me. Meeting other golfers and building friendships with them was really cool. I still keep in touch with some of my college teammates.”
Not traditional in the sense of picking up the sport at an early age, Zornes only began playing golf in the latter half of his seventh-grade year — after failing to make the cut on Ironton’s seventh-grade boys basketball team.
While that adversity stung, it’d later turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I started golf late in my seventh grade year after I was cut from the basketball team,” Zornes said. “I still don’t know why I picked up golf, but ever since that time, I took up the sport and never looked back. I started practicing more often and realized that I was pretty good at the game, so I kept practicing and working as hard as I could.”
That effort paid off in a big way once Zornes got to high school.
During his four-year career at Ironton, Zornes — as a freshman — helped lead the Fighting Tigers to the 2008 Southeastern Ohio Athletic League (SEOAL) championship while obtaining Honorable Mention Division II all-Southeast District accolades.
The next year, Zornes stepped it up even further, earning first-team Division II all-Southeast District honors and helping Ironton qualify for the 2009 OHSAA Division II state championships as a sophomore.
Zornes shot a two-day 172 to finish in a tie for 48th while helping the Fighting Tigers finish 10th overall in state competition.
He failed to qualify for the state tournament in 2010, but after a season where he still earned second-team all-Southeast District honors, Zornes came back to qualify as an individual as a senior by earning first-team all-district.
This time around, he shot a two-day 181 to finish 48th.
“It was awesome,” Zornes said. “I had one heck of a golf coach in Jeff Kerns. He got me prepared for college golf, and my friends on the team were great. I still stay in touch with them. The school spirit at Ironton is definitely awesome, and I enjoyed my four years at Ironton.”
As a two-year team captain and a two-time state qualifier, Zornes had proven himself on the golf course.
He had also proven himself in the classroom, as his National Honor Society accolades and German and Math Honor Society billings proved.
It didn’t take long for former SSU head coach Roger Merb and current SSU golf hand Dave Hopkins to take notice.
Hopkins struck up a relationship that turned into a personal friendship with the-then high school junior.
Mount Vernon Nazarene also wanted Zornes’ services, but with Merb and Hopkins, the ability to play at the Elks, and the addition of former SEOAL foe and future teammate in Nick Saunders, Zornes’ choice became a no-brainer.
“I didn’t have to visit,” Zornes said. “I talked with Coach Merb and Coach Hopkins, and knew that with the guys that they had and their coaching style, that I would fit in well. Mount Vernon Nazarene wanted me to come and play for them as well, but the idea of staying close to home, having the Portsmouth Elks as my home course, and my family still being able to watch during all that time made the decision easy for me. Having guys that I played against in high school on the squad and knowing that we could still have a solid team also helped a great deal.”
Throughout Zornes’ four seasons in the SSU lineup, there were many comers and goers in the main rotation.
However, Zornes remained a constant — and a consistent — figure.
In the first-ever meet that the freshman participated in, Zornes shot an opening-day 72 and followed that with a second-day 73 to lead the entire team with a two-day score of 145 — shooting just one-over par and finishing in sixth place at the Bluegrass Fall Classic in Georgetown, Ky.
From then on, Zornes didn’t look back.
In 10 meets during the 2012-13 campaign, the freshman finished in the team’s top two, recording five top-10 finishes on the season and earning top medalist honors at the Ohio-Chillicothe Invitational — leading the team to a victory as well in the same event — in shooting a 77.8 stroke average.
In the 2013-14 season, Zornes closed out his sophomore campaign with a strong finish, placing 11th at the Capital Spring Invitational (Galena), third at the Miami Hamilton Invitational (Middletown), and a season-ending sixth at the Mid-South Conference championship (Bardstown, Ky.) to close the year with a 78.2 stroke average.
He ended the season with seven straight rounds under 80.
Zornes wasn’t done in playing his best golf, though.
In the 2014-15 season, the junior began the year with two more rounds under 80 in shooting a 76-75 at the Urbana Dye Intercollegiate tournament in Urbana, and followed that performance up with what was — at the time — a career-low 70 in the second day at the University of Pikeville Invitational to force a three-way playoff, setting a new two-day career low in the process and breaking the career record for a two-day overall score (142).
From the outset of the spring season, the achievements got even sweeter for Zornes — as the junior earned top medalist honors for the second time in his career at the Shawnee State Invitational in March by shooting a 74-70.
In the process of winning the event, Zornes broke the program’s all-time mark of rounds below 80 by shooting 16 of them — a mark that had been set 13 years earlier by Brandon Caniff in 2002.
In his senior season, Zornes — by then a two-time second-team all-Mid-South Conference honoree — proved to be dynamite.
In the 18 rounds that he shot over the course of the 2015-16 season, Zornes shot every round in the 70s — ultimately breaking his own record of consecutive rounds in the 70s by posting 21 consecutive to cap off his career dating back to the 2015 Mid-South Conference championship.
Zornes racked up his third consecutive second-team all-MSC honor in the process with a 10th-place finish at the MSC championships.
Establishing and enhancing relationships with both Hopkins and Merb as a collegiate athlete, Zornes said, served among his best memories — as did playing on the historic Elks ground.
“Getting to know him (Merb) was awesome,” Zornes said. “I always sat up front on our trips and talked to him. He has so many stories, and getting to learn from him and his previous experiences helped me and was so much fun. Ole’ Hop is a great guy and cares about the program. He showed a lot of interest in me while I was a junior at Ironton, and after five years with him, I am glad that he is the head coach at SSU. As for the Elks, I love the old-school nature of the course and I practiced so much there and on the range. I enjoyed everything about the place. It’s very special to me.”
Academically, Zornes’ work in the classroom proved to be terrific.
With a 3.55 GPA as a Sport Studies major focusing in the business track, along with his golf successes, Zornes proved to be one of the Mid-South Conference’s best student-athletes regardless of sport — a fact that was proven true when Zornes was awarded with the 2016 MSC Male Athlete of the Year honor.
He finished with the honor on the strength of his GPA and the three program records that he tied or set while at SSU during his playing days, including the lowest two-day scoring total and the lowest program average in history in addition to his consecutive rounds in the 70s.
For his well-rounded success, Zornes credits Shawnee State for building up a supportive environment that kept him from becoming another face in the crowd.
“I liked the majority of my professors at Shawnee State,” Zornes said. “They respected sports and would work with you. I had a great professor and academic advisor in Dr. Steven Rader. He is an awesome man and is one of the best at what he does. As for the game of golf, it was great. I was very lucky to meet so many people and keep in touch with some still, which makes the experience even better. Replaying those memories is always fun for me and serve as memories that I will never forget. I’m glad to say that I was a Bear, and hope that all of our programs can succeed and get better.”
Today, Zornes continues to put in diligent work.
In Georgetown, Ky., Zornes works in the Plastics division of what is one of Toyota’s central and most crucial plants to its car line.
There, Zornes has sacrificed and put in more than his fair share of overtime hours — which is something that he believes he wouldn’t be doing if he hadn’t picked up golf and played the sport at the collegiate level.
“It greatly benefited my work ethic,” Zornes said. “With where I’m at, we work some overtime shifts, and sometimes, you have the option of staying or volunteering. I don’t know if I’d be pursuing overtime like I am now if I didn’t play golf at the collegiate level. Working to be great at the game of golf really showcased its benefits more than just becoming an all-Mid-South Conference golfer.”
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