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Vail Mountain golf takes fifth at state

Saints' Downey finishes third

The Vail Mountain School golf team celebrates its fifth-place finish at the 3A state tournament on Tuesday.
Special to the Daily

It’s Timbuk 3, and the song is, “The Future’s so Bright.”

The Vail Mountain School golf team should be wearing shades after its performance at the 3A state tournament at Gunnison’s Dos Rios Golf Club on Monday and Tuesday.

VMS, with two freshmen and a pair of sophomores, finished fifth at the tournament. The Gore Rangers were just 13 strokes behind the winner, Colorado Academy.

Meanwhile, Vail Christian junior Connor Downey finished third (72-75) at Dos Rios. At the 4A tourney in Colorado Springs, Eagle Valley junior Jake Crawford tied for 18th.

Everyone involved seems psyched for next year’s season already.

Right on, Gore Rangers

So where did VMS golf coach Will Sipf go to high school? Kent Denver, 2007. We just bring that up because Sipf’s charges were going up against the likes of Kent, CA and St. Mary’s for 3A golf supremacy.

“Our whole goal this season was to qualify as a team for state,” Sipf said. “As a team, we hit our goal. We had two freshman and two sophomores and we were the youngest team there. We want to come back next year because we now know what this is all about.”

A freshman state golfer is meant to be overawed by the moment. No so for Stewie Bruce. He shot his high school-low round of 75 on Day 1. So much for nerves.

OK, there were probably some nerves as Bruce did have a quadruple-bogey eight on No. 4, but repaired a lot of damage with an eagle on the par-5 ninth. Bruce went 75-77 to end up tied for 10th.

Tike Jaffe (freshman) spent two days under 80 with two 79s and 26th place. Hunter Salani (sophomore) shot the best round of his high school career with a 76 on Monday and backed it up with an 83. Salani finished 30th. Felix Gruner (sophomore) carded 86s both days.

After a performance like that, it’s all about getting these Gore Rangers more playing experience.

“We just need to play a ton of golf,” Sipf said. “Honestly, as they get a little bit older, it’s all about playing experience and working on game management. All of them can bomb the ball. It’s about honing in on the short game, game management and the things that make a difference.”

Downey goes low

Vail Christian’s Downey was at state, but his initial goal was the unofficial Vail Valley Championship. After a 1-over par 72 on Monday, though Bruce, Jaffe and Salani were still on his tail, well, he broadened his goal.

Vail Christian’s Connor Downey finishes third at the state tournament in Gunnison after adjusting his goals for the event. (Chris Dillmann | Daily file photo)
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

The highlights of Downey’s first day at state included an eagle on No. 16 — produced by a 214-yard 5-iron to within 2 feet — and some post-round fishing with his dad, Jim.

Tied for third after the first day, Downey had a smooth front nine on Tuesday and birdied the 10th. He started to think about making a charge. As happens often in the infernal game of golf, two what-should-be-easy approach shots were errant on Nos. 11 and 13 derailing that hope.

“I was seething. I was so mad,” Downey said after his shot on No. 13.

He settled down with a par on 14 and then dropped a big putt for a birdie on 15 and there was less seething, but more attention as Downey headed toward home.

It was a little intimidating for Downey to have a gallery — high school tournaments traditionally are watched by coaches and parents, and that’s it. But Downey finished 72-75 to take third. That’s the Saints’ best finish at state since Cooper Gould was second in 2014.

Downey had an excellent observation about the tournament. Looking at the leaderboard, it was topped by Aspen’s Nick Pevny, Montezuma-Cortez’s Thayer Plewe and Downey, all Western Slope golfers in Gunnison.

“Being at Gunnison, it felt like a normal high school tournament,” Downey said. “The Denver guys weren’t used to it.”

Wherever the state tournament is in 2021 — even if it’s in Nebraska — Downey, however, will be ready.

In the meantime, it’s time for skiing and basketball.

“I am so excited, but at the same time, I’ve been waiting since March 13 to go skiing and I’m excited for basketball,” Downey said.

He’s also excited for his teammate Ross Anderson who shot 76-78 to finish tied for 13th.

Crawford ties for 13th

The 4A state tournament was held at the Country Club of Colorado, a Pete Dye design, down in Colorado Springs.

“Oh, good, it’s a Pete Dye course,” said every golfer ever — not.

Despite the inherent difficulty of Pete Dye, Eagle Valley’s Crawford went 78-81 to finish inside the top 20.

“He had a great time,” Devils coach Zach Haglin said. “He’s going to want to make state again. As far as lessons learned, he learned to settle in, hit greens and not force it.”

Battle Mountain also had P.J. Kessenich and Blu Barnett at Colorado Springs. Kessenich tied for 68th and Barnett was deadlocked in 73rd place.


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