Vail Valley golf: Brown wins regionals
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colorado – Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop the Postal Service or local golfers from making state.
On a day more suited for a Nordic ski race at the Haymaker Golf Club in Steamboat Springs, Battle Mountain’s Cameron Brown won the 4A Western Regional Golf Tournament by shooting a 74. He, teammate Brady McDonald, Eagle Valley’s Austin Fahrenholtz and Vail Mountain’s A.J. Yankee all earned berths in the 4A and 3A state tournaments in two weeks.
The 4A tourney is at Highlands Ranch in Littleton, while the 3A championship is at Cougar Canyon in Trinidad.
“I’ve played in wind like that, but never cold like that,” Brown said. “I’m excited about state. I’m excited about playing anywhere where it’s warmer.”
While no one would confuse Tuesday with a nice day in Florida, the weather was better Tuesday than during Monday’s practice round when competitors played a practice round in falling snow. Brown caught a cold Monday and he said it was affecting his play by the time he hit the back nine.
“I hit every fairway and green on the front nine. I just got tired on the back,” Brown said. “I was congested. I did not feel good. I was dying on the 13th (hole). I couldn’t make a swing.”
The good news is that Brown made some superb swings on the front nine, going out in a masterful 35 – eight pars and one birdie.
The tweeter came on No. 3, a par-4, 436-yarder. Brown smacked his drive 280 yards. He needed just a pitching wedge from there. When your pitching wedge leaves you with a 2-foot putt, life is good, and so it was for Brown.
While he may have felt like death warmed over, Brown kept it together on the back. He wasn’t happy about a 3-over-par back nine, but minimizing the damage was the key for all golfers Tuesday.
Brown’s 74 was one stroke better than Montrose’s Drew Trujillo and two ahead of Steamboat’s Kaelen Gunderson. With the win, Brown is the school’s first regional champ in golf.
“I’m excited,” Brown said. “My main goal was to get the team there. I really wanted to get the whole team to state. I felt like I could have played better.”
While Montrose won the team event and will go state, Brown will have some company at Highlands Ranch in McDonald.
A triple to start
Every golfer wants to get his round off to a good start at regionals. So did McDonald.
Instead, the sophomore triple-bogeyed the first hole with a four-putt.
“I was thinking I was done,” McDonald said.
Most would be, but McDonald showed maturity beyond his years in his next 17 holes for a 78 and a state ticket.
“I just forgot about it,” McDonald said. “I got pars on two and three. I had a bad chip on four (leading to bogey) and then it just clicked.”
McDonald fixed his swing on the fly as well. He was taking his club back too closely to his body and that was leading to a fade/slice. He straightened out his swing and the score followed.
McDonald finished the front with a 40, thanks in large part to a nice bird on the par-4 eighth. From there, he was rock steady with seven pars and just two bogeys on the back.
“That was exciting,” Brown said. “He was so focused. He wouldn’t let anyone talk to him. He was in the zone.”
Love that putter
For Fahrenholtz, cosmic golf justice won out.
The Eagle Valley junior has dealt with putting problems all season. His coach, Tom Buzbee, had been begging Fahrenholtz to try a new flat blade.
“I was asking him to use any other putter,” Buzbee said Tuesday.
But Fahrenholtz stuck with his putter, and it’s now his favorite club in the world. A 45-foot bomb for birdie on the par-3 12th was part of a superb putting day that gave Fahrenholtz an 80 and a state berth.
“I had been working on it. I got the speed down,” Fahrenholtz said. “It didn’t have a three-putt. It’s a relief. All year, it hasn’t been good until today.”
Fahrenholtz’s putting was magnificent in the clutch Tuesday. He had six one-putts, and just 30 total on the day.
He, like McDonald, had a blow-up hole. Fahrenholtz carded a seven on the par-four fourth. The junior responded with birdie on the next hole, capped by a nice, easy 4-footer, thank you.
Fahrenholtz was superb with a 37 on the back, and then played the waiting game. Buzbee thought that a score in 70s would be good for state. Everyone in involved with Eagle Valley golf in Steamboat knew that last year at regionals then-senior Bryan Brennan shot an 81, and originally missed the state cut. (He ended up making the tournament as a first alternate.)
“I had to wait for an hour,” Fahrenholtz said. “I thought my score was good enough, but then I saw some 70s come in and started to feel differently.”
Fahrenholtz ended up being the eighth and final individual qualifier for state from the regional tournament by one stroke, or one incredible 45-footer on No. 12.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
It isn’t called the Vail Mountain School for nothing, people. The school’s mascot is named after the Gore Range which is generally snow-capped during the school year.
VMS’ A.J. Yankee ignored the cold and fired an 84 Tuesday to qualify for the 3A state tournament.
“I just tried to cancel out the cold. There was not much else I could do about it,” Yankee said. “I just put on a jacket and tried to cover up my face when I could, and charge through it”
Yankee started with a birdie on No. 10 – his first hole of the day – and that certainly warmed him up. He played well on his front nine with a 41, which included a triple on the par-3 17th.
After the turn, Yankee played bogey golf for six holes. With memories of missing state last year by just a single stroke, Yankee was starting to get uncomfortable about his chances Tuesday.
He thought he salvaged his day with an amazing chip that landed 4 inches from the cup, on the par-3 seventh for a par save. He added another par on the eighth to boot.
“Bogey after bogey,” Yankee said. “I needed that par. It boosted my confidence and improved my mental game.”
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried. He finished sixth in the 3A regional, six strokes inside the cut.
Both the 4A and 3A state tournaments are Oct. 5-6.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.