Vail Mountain School places second at home invitational
Gruner is individual runner-up as Eagle Valley's Boyer places third
It was almost a home, sweet home kind of afternoon at the Vail Golf Club on Tuesday. Vail Mountain School was neck-and-neck with 4A Grand Junction throughout its home invitational but ultimately ended up in second place by just six strokes.
“Overall, still a really good finish for us,” VMS head coach Will Sipf said. Grand Junction scored 221 points to VMS’s 227 in the team chase.
On the individual side, it was Grand Junction freshman Hunter Simmons who stole the show.
“It was good,” Simmons said of his round. “The last few tournaments I’ve sort of struggled with my attitude but today I felt like I was trying to keep more calm and just trust my game.”
“He played a great round of golf,” VMS senior Felix Gruner said of Simmons. “He made everything he looked at.”
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Along with Eagle Valley’s Jonathan Boyer, Gruner gave the Tiger a run for his money. Boyer parred holes 8-15 and birdied No. 16 en route to a third-place finish, carding a 73.
Gruner, who won last Thursday in Gypsum, kept his hot streak alive, going par, birdie, par, par to open the day. Playing in the same group as Simmons, the turning point for the VMS senior was an unfortunate double-bogey on No. 8. His three-wood tee-shot strayed right.
“We were thinking it was just in the rough, but it hit the cart path probably four times, so we didn’t look that far up. So, we declared a lost ball, I hit another one, and then we found it after that,” Gruner explained of the pivotal penalty.
The Gore Ranger golfer showed resilience, however, with a par on the 11th, a birdie on No. 12 and three straight pars to follow. Then, he birdied No. 16, tightening the screws on the Grand Junction frosh with two holes remaining. What had been a four-shot lead at No. 12 was down to two strokes. On the green, Simmons stroked a 50-foot putt 10 feet past the hole.
“Well, I knew our team needed a few shots to win, so I had to trust my line and if it didn’t go in, I knew I hit it on the right roll,” Simmons said of the pressure-packed moment on No 16. “And it dropped, and it was good.”
On the par-three 17th, Simmons shot even; Gruner was 1-over, losing another stroke. On 18, the VMS golfer continued to play aggressively, taking out his driver again.
“I would never hit driver on 16 and 18, and I did just to give myself a look at eagle and birdie,” Gruner explained. On the final hole, both Gruner and Simmons had eagle attempts but had to settle for birdies. Though he emanated a calm, collected presence, Simmons admitted he’s felt some pressure, both in the round and during the season as a whole.
“It’s been a lot of pressure — it’s good pressure that I need to learn to cope with. The pressure really helps me in the game,” Simmons said of leading Grand Junction as a freshman.
“The team is just great. I’m so thankful for the friends I have and how they’re able to back each other up even if we don’t have a good day.”
Gruner (72), Stewie Bruce (76) and Hunter Salani (79) were the scoring three for VMS, which had a 1-shot lead as a team through 13 holes. A slew of late bogeys proved detrimental.
“We had a couple of hiccups there at the end that cost us,” Sipf said.
“It’s just not letting the emotions get the best of you and don’t beat yourself up over a bad hole,” he added, regarding how his team needs to iron out those kinks.
“Bad holes happen. Just move onto the next and take it shot by shot.”
Another bright spot for Sipf’s squad was Carter Gillette, who shot a 74 playing for the second team.
“That was an unbelievable day for him,” Sipf said of Gillette, who would have been the second scoring Ranger had he been selected for the first team — which is to say, VMS has a good problem when it comes to depth. Even Simmons knew that.
“We knew that today it wasn’t going to come easily,” the Grand Junction star said of the team race.
After Boyer’s third-place finish, Eagle Valley’s Gunther Soltvedt (84) and Lawson Rumley (85) helped the Devils to a seventh-place team finish with 242 points.
Battle Mountain was led by Owen Jackson (81) and Tyler Losa (85). The Huskies finished in 10th place as a team with 257 points.
Austin Reyna and Jack Hughes propelled Vail Christian (297) to a 16th place finish, shooting 94 and 97, respectively.