Five punch their ticket to state
RIFLE – Five is really not a good number in golf.
If it’s a par-5, five is usually viewed as missed birdie opportunity. If it’s a par-4, it’s a bogey, and if it’s par-3, well, a golfer is ready to impale him or herself after a double.
But five was good on Tuesday at the 4A and 3A regional tournament at Rifle Creek Golf Course as a quintet of local high-school golfers qualified for state.
Eagle Valley’s Tanner Coulter tied for second in the 4A field with a 76, the best local score of the day. Battle Mountain’s Andrew Sady (79) is also off to the 4A state tournament at Pelican Lakes in Windsor, and he’ll be joined by teammate Brady McDonald (80), who won a four-man playoff.
The Vail Mountain School’s Harrison Alonzo (81) is his school’s first state qualifier in two years and Vail Christian freshman Cooper Gould (85) is also going to Dos Rios in Gunnison, the 3A state site.
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Facing down demons
Coulter started with the back nine Tuesday. He carded a double-bogey on the uphill par-4 12th, but steadied himself nicely with pars on Nos. 13 and 14, two of the toughest holes on the course.
“Those holes had beaten me up in the past,” Coulter said. “That gave me a confidence boost.”
Coulter took some strokes back on Nos. 17 and 18 with birdies. He cut the corner on the dogleg-left par-5 17th by crushing a drive. That left him with a nice, easy 9-iron and a two-putt. The senior used his 2-iron off the tee to avoid water on the 18th, and then pumped his pitching wedge 135 yards to within 8 feet.
Coulter, like just about everyone in the field, wanted to get aggressive on the front nine, which normally yields red numbers, but it just didn’t happen. He parred eight of nine on the front.
While he wanted to go lower, a state berth is just fine, given that Coulter broke his back (technically a fractured C-5 vertebra) his freshman year while skiing and is finally getting his golf game back.
“It’s really satisfying,” he said. “I didn’t get to play my sophomore year, My junior year, I didn’t post a good score. I knew I had it in me. It’s been rewarding getting back into golf.”
Sady had a rather boring day at regionals, but boring at tournaments like these is just fine. The Battle Mountain senior didn’t have a birdie. He had just one double-bogey.
There was also the waiting game. Sady started on 10 and it was slow-going as the field worked its way up the canyon on hole Nos. 10-13. Sady’s group waited and waited during its opening holes.
“It tried not to pay attention to it,” he said. “You try to laugh at it. I played with really good guys. We spent the time talking.”
Sady’s tee shot on the tight par-5 13th went into the left rough, setting up his biggest save of the day. He took a stroke for an unplayable lie and then crushed a 3-hybrid and chipped onto the green. He sank his putt, which was an extremely fast one, for par.
“If it didn’t go in, it was off the green,” Sady said. “We’d been practicing up at Red Sky. Jeff Hanson (Red Sky’s director of golf) let us play up there last weekend and the greens at Red Sky prepared us for the greens perfectly.”
Though McDonald shot an 80, only one more stroke than Sady, that left him in a four-way playoff for two state spots. The foursome went to the first hole, where Montrose’s Kolton Kyne parred to earn his state berth, while Moffat County’s Parker King was eliminated with a six.
That left McDonald and Durango’s Morgan Miller heading to No. 8 for a second extra hole. McDonald hit a 6-iron 215 yards off the tee to leave him with 125 to the green. The Battle Mountain senior pushed his gap wedge about 20 feet right of the flag, but still on the green.
That proved to be decisive when Miller went into the left rough. McDonald two-putted to win the playoff.
“I wasn’t really nervous. I was more frustrated because I should have played better and not have been in that playoff,” McDonald sad. “I was in a playoff at Haymaker (in Steamboat Springs earlier this season), so I knew I had to focus on myself and not on what everyone else was doing.”
This is McDonald’s second trip to state – he qualified as a sophomore and went with then-teammate Cameron Brown.
“It was cool when Cameron and I went down,” McDonald said. “Sady and I are going to have a blast.”
Alonzo was pretty frustrated. The VMS sophomore could not buy a putt on the front nine, the front nine which is meant to be the easy one. Instead, he started the back nine with a birdie on No. 10. He ended up going 42-39 for an 81.
It’s really not meant to be that way at Rifle.
Alonzo parred 16 and 17, both doglegs and full of trouble. Then he finished with a bang on 18. Two strokes put him on the left side of the final green, facing a downhill chip with 2-3 feet of break.
Alonzo pulled his 58-degree wedge.
“I said to myself, ‘Just get it inside a 3 foot-circle (of the pin) and make the putt easy,'” Alonzo said. “Then I was thinking, ‘Ooh, that could go in.'”
Alonzo saw it roll in and heard that oh-so-satisfying sound of a golf ball landing in the cup for a birdie.
He’s the first Gore Ranger to make state since A.J Yanke did so in 2009.
‘Bye, bye, state’
Gould had just most awesome start ever to a regional tournament – he triple-bogeyed the first. That’s not how one draws it up.
Belying his freshman academic status, Gould shook it off and parred the next three holes to get his footing at regionals.
“Luckily, my parents have been really good to me, taking me down to Denver for junior golf tournaments,” Gould said. “I’ve gotten used to tournaments. But there’s a little more of a mental aspect (at regionals). You want to score low enough and, on a few shots, you’re pushing and hoping for a little extra.
Gould didn’t know where he was in relation to the field and so he was desperately searching for a birdie as he came to No. 16. The drive was good. The approach was good – it even spun pack nicely toward the hole. His putt came to a rest at the edge of the cup. No birdie, just par.
“I thought my chances were gone at that moment,” Gould said. “I said, ‘Bay, bye, state.'”
As it turned out Gould actually had a stroke to spare.
With a regional tournament also comes heartbreak. It is particularly acute for Vail Mountain and Vail Christian. VMS’ Christian Bohren finished 10th among individuals with an 88, while Vail Christian’s Robby Bowles was 11th (89).
The top-nine individuals are guaranteed a spot at state. Bohren is the first alternate from the region for state, while Bowles is the second in line.
And if this is starting to sound familiar, well, Bowles was the first alternate in 2010. Saints coach Jeremy Lowe was browsing the Internet a week after regionals, only to find that Bowles had, in fact, been selected for state.
There are no guarantees, but who knows?
“I’ll be checking the Internet,” Lowe joked Tuesday.
“Robby was first alternate last year,” VMS coach Ross Sappenfield said. “We’re hopeful. Christian’s going to keep practicing.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.