DENVER - Pinehurst Country Club in Denver and the similarly-named tracks in North Carolina have one thing in common - they can beat up a golfer pretty well.
That didn't stop Vail Christian's quartet of Robby Bowles, Cooper Gould, Tony Clark and Parker Poage from taking seventh in the 3A state championship tournament Tuesday, nor did it prevent Vail Mountain' Harrison Alonzo from nearly cracking the top 20.
Pinehurst in Denver played longer than the card of 6,748 yards with a par-70 (ouch) and no par-3 playing shorter than 20 yards (double ouch).
"If you were off on one shot, it just got tougher," Alonzo said.
Nonetheless, Bowles, the lone senior of the local state quintet, put up rounds of 74 and 81 to finish eighth in the state. This was Bowles' third state appearance. As a sophomore, he finished 77th at Eaton and 57th last year at Dos Rios up in Gunnison.
"It's cool. It's fun that my work paid off," Bowles said. "I had a huge jump from last year to this year. It was slowing my swing down and clubbing up and buying a putter from (VMS') Christian Bohren."
For the trivially-inclined, Bowles went from the Odyssey 2 Ball to the Scotty Cameron flat blade, and he's keeping the latter.
"I'll charge him double for it," Bowles joked if Bohren wants his putter back.
Bowles' 74 on Monday was magnificent. That put him third after the first day behind Kent Denver's Ben Moore and Ethan Freeman, who ended up first and second, respectively, at the end of the tournament.
Bowles went out in even par on the front nine before things came apart on the final nine, where he shot a 46.
"I was playing all right," he said. "I lost my focus. I got nervous. I just choked, sort of."
Choked is a pretty harsh word, but, then again, golfers specialize in self-flagellation. Whatever term one uses, it's happened to the best in golf - Phil Mickelson at a bunch of U.S. Opens, or, more recently, the Americans at last weekend's Ryder Cup. Bowles will continue his sporting pursuit of getting a round projectile into a small hole with Vail Christian basketball this winter.
VMS' Alonzo ended up 21st with rounds of 80 and 82 ("Shoot," he said. The VMS junior has the top 20 as a goal.) As was the case with Bowles, Alonzo is trending in the right direction at state. He was tied for 39th last year.
"It was a gritty performance," VMS coach Ross Sappenfield said. "It was easy to get down. I was proud of his disposition. He kept a positive attitude both days and finished strong."
Alonzo ended state with tap-in pars on Nos. 17 and 18, holes which were taking body parts from the competitors.
Alonzo was quick to note that he shaved 4-5 strokes off his scoring average this fall. As a side note, there is very little Alonzo does not know about his game - one of his greatest strengths is his meticulous nature from statistics to note-taking on every course he plays. He also nipped Aspen Jesse Beetham by one stroke.
And though, Beetham graduates, Alonzo is ready for more come his senior year.
"The old saying, 'Practice makes perfect,'" he said. "You know how golf is. You have to work really hard at it. As Ben Hogan said, 'The secret is in the dirt.'"
Vail Christian's team - the program is all of 3-years-old - finished seventh in the state, which is very impressive given Class 3A golf fields teams from schools as big as 600 kids. (Vail Christian has 103 students.)
"We started my sophomore year," Bowles said. "It was just me and Jordan (Mesch) and Parker. We'd go into a tournament and there was just one of us playing. It was rare to have all three of us at one tournament. Three years later, we're all going to state. They're going to get better. They're going to be so good."
They would be sophomore Gould (79-87, T33rd), Clark, also a sophomore (85-92, T35th) and junior Poage (89-96, T 64th).
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.