The next stop is state for this golfing quartet
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — And then there were four.
Eagle Valley’s, Barrett Jones, come on down. After a 74 on Tuesday at Haymaker Golf Club in Steamboat Springs at regionals, the Devils sophomore qualified for the 4A state tournament at the Fox Hills Club in Longmont Oct. 5 and 6.
Meanwhile, Vail Mountain School golf, Oliver Pesso (83), Sean Weller (87) and Ben Barron (92) all made it at the 3A level and will have pseudo-home-course advantage at Eagle Ranch.
Welcome to altitude, kid
Jones is newbie to golf at altitude. The sophomore transferred from Brentwood, Tennessee, to Eagle Valley this year. Brentwood is a suburb of Nashville, and all of 745 feet above sea level.
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“The altitude has really changed a lot of my shots,” he said. “I’ve been hitting my drives a lot further. The difference at the beginning was hitting irons. I hit them more. The courses, I don’t see really much of a difference. They’re shorter at this altitude. The difference is that there are a lot of native grasses and not as many trees and creeks.”
As Jones indicated, he’s learned accuracy is paramount to distance and put that to work on Tuesday.
He overcame a rough start — two bogeys in the first four holes.
“I knew that I have the ability to make birdies,” Jones said. “I needed to stay patient.”
Trips to the aviary followed on the par-5 sixth on his way to a 38 on the front. He was even par on the back with a 36, thanks to consecutive red numbers on Nos, 14 (par-5) and 15 (par-4).
Jones gets two weeks to prepare for Fox Hills, a course he played during a U.S. Amateur junior qualifier this summer when he carded rounds of 74 and 76. He said he didn’t like the way he played in Longmont and sees room for improvement at state.
“I’m excited for it,” Jones said. “I’m going to practice and try to get dialed in. I need to work on my chipping and putting.”
He shot what?
Haymaker was a brutal test. Only one player, 4A or 3A, Steamboat’s Britt Walton broke par at 1-under. The top score in 3A was Aspen’s Dominic Lanese at 4-over and plus-8 finished second.
Of course, VMS collectively didn’t know that at the time and the Gore Rangers, in particular young master Barron was worried.
Barron started his regional round with a snowman on a par-4, which is never good. He bounced back nicely with a birdie on the next hole and had 43 on his front nine, very solid given the opening quadruple.
And then it came undone, like on the old “Batman” TV series — boom, splat, pow. A plus-13 on the back?
Barron hasn’t played golf like this since grade school. The senior has been nothing but consistent throughout his varsity career.
Local players have made 3A state as an alternate with scores in the 80s, most notably Vail Christian’s Robby Bowles with an 89 in 2011 at Rifle.
But a 92?
“I never thought I would have made it, even as an alternate,” Barron said.
It was good for 18th place, and 18th never looked so good.
All’s well that ends Weller
So, Weller started out in terrific fashion. He shot a 40 on the front, capped by a birdie on 18, his ninth hole of the day.
Golfers have encyclopedic memories, and Weller is no exception. He shot a 90 at regionals last year and missed an alternate spot by one stroke, so being on pace for an 80 was smooth sailing.
He started the back nine with a double, another double and a triple. Those sound like tasty cheeseburgers, but are not golf scores.
“I am blowing my chance at state and I need to get my game together,” Weller said of his thoughts at the time.
Weller said that, having played what was his regional back nine so well during the regular season, he was too aggressive attacking the pins on his approaches. He often ended up over the green on those three holes and that’s trouble.
Well stemmed the bleeding with good bogey on his 14th and then popped a beauty of birdie on the par-3 15th — a 7-iron to 10 feet.
As he brought his card of 87 to the scoreboard, he didn’t know what to think.
“(VMS coach Ross Sappenfield) was telling me that he thought I had made it,” Weller said. “I wasn’t sure. I was sitting in a circle with my teammates when Sapp told me I officially qualified.”
And this is sweet for Weller. While Barron and Pesso have been to state, this is Weller’s first trip.
On a day were big ugly numbers were the norm, Pesso did a beautiful job of grinding. There’s no way he’s framing the scorecard of his 82, but it was that kind of day at Haymaker.
Aspen’s Will Hazen, who has a habit of playing par golf or better was nine-over in third, and Pesso was tied for fourth, one stroke behind him. (Again, golfers are like calculators when it comes to stats. Pesso’s season scoring average after the regional tournament was one stroke behind Hazen, much like they’ve been battling all season.)
Bogeys and pars were good golf on a day of tough pins. Pesso shot 41 on the way out and 41 on the back. His only “other” was double on the home hole.
“I still put myself in good position,” Pesso said. “Even at the beginning, when I had some bogeys, I felt that I was steady. I knew I was in position on the 18th when Sapp told me to finish strong with a birdie.”
Thanks, Coach. (We kid because we care.)
Welcome home, VMS
VMS will not need a major scouting expedition for this year’s state tournament. After doing state in Sterling last year, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Eagle Ranch. It’s not hard to see the Gore Rangers moving practice there a few times before the state tournament.
It’s also not hard to see what that course may play like — long with pins in places that will be tough.
Bur most importantly, the Gore Rangers seniors are finishing at state as a team.
“I’m so excited for it,” Pesso said, echoing Weller’s and Barron’s sentiments. “For my senior year, I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. After my round was over and we realized Ben was going to make it, we’re going to be able to post a score as a team at state. It’s awesome.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.