Vail Valley preps: Dillon McDonald wins in Gypsum
GYPSUM – And now for a golfing anomaly – the top local scores went down from Tuesday’s Battle Mountain Invite at Vail to Thursday’s Eagle Valley tourney at Gypsum Creek.
It isn’t meant to work that way, people.
Battle Mountain’s Dillon McDonald, coming off a 76 at Vail, fired a 73 Thursday to win the Eagle Valley Invite at the somewhat-vindictive Pete Dye course. Meanwhile, Eagle Valley’s Nick Bontempo dropped from a 78 Tuesday to a 74 Thursday to tie for second along with Fruita’s Joe Saad.
The Huskies and Devils finished first and third, respectively among their fellow 4A schools and second and fifth overall.
There are a few obvious explanations for this phenomenon. McDonald didn’t start the day Thursday with a ghastly triple bogey, as he did on Tuesday. That generally helps. And Bontempo was playing his home course. But there was a little more to the show Thursday.
McDonald had the unenviable task of starting his day on the par-5 sixth, the heart of Gypsum Creek’s mesa, its toughest stretch of holes. It’s an especially difficult assignment when 48 hours ago, McDonald essentially blew his round up with a seven on the par-4 first in Vail, a pretty straightforward hole.
“I made sure I hit the fairway and the green,” McDonald said. “But I left my first putt 5 feet short, and had a bad three-putt. I’m like, ‘Not this again.'”
First, a six on No. 6 at Gypsum Creek is just fine – the key is to avoid the big number up there. Second, McDonald got into a nice groove, parring his way off the mesa and then striking on the long par-4 ninth.
McDonald struck a 310-yard drive there, pumped his pitching wedge to 3 feet and carded a birdie with a the tap-in. From there, McDonald notched eight-straight pars before bogeying Nos. 18 and 1.
He knew he was on pace for 74 with pars the rest of the way, and that would put him in the mix for low medalist. Palpitations started when McDonald’s 5-iron went a little too far right for his taste on the fifth tee – his last hole.
But McDonald found his ball was up and playable.
“I got up there and told myself, ‘One good shot and you’ll be there,'” he said.
His pitching wedge from 145 yards was butter, 2 feet from the hole, and that ended up being the winning margin. McDonald ended up playing Gypsum Creek’s front nine even and the back at 1-over-par, which is not the traditional way.
On the other hand, McDonald seems to like the course’s tough front. He shot a 39 on it earlier in the summer in a First Tee event to qualify for a tournament at Pebble Beach next week.
“I’m so excited. It’s just surreal. I can’t believe it,” McDonald said of playing the historic course. “I’m just going to go and gain from the experience and learn from the best.”
No driving allowed
Bontempo scored Thursday in the traditional manner. He went out on the front nine, shooting a very nice 38, avoiding the dangers of the mesa. He came back in 36, including tweeters on the par-5 16 and the par-3 17th.
What was stunning about his round was that the longest club he pulled from his bag Thursday was a 5-wood.
“I didn’t pull my driver all day. I just wanted to keep it in the fairway,” Bontempo said. “I was using 5- and 6-irons off the tee, and that was it. You can get in trouble out there. The front nine kills lots of people. You lose one ball and you’re pretty much done. It gets in your head and then you start pushing and pulling your shots.”
The sound you just heard was Eagle Valley coach Tom Buzbee standing up and cheering. Course management is something the coach has been preaching for years with his players, especially at tight loops like Gypsum Creek, and Bontempo learned the lesson well.
Bontempo, whose driver has been temperamental in years past leading to ugly numbers, only bogeyed Nos. 4 and 6, on the front. Those are the two nasty par-5s in Gypsum, and sixes are fine there.
The Eagle Valley junior had brief missteps on Nos. 10 and 11 with bogeys, but got those strokes back late in fine style. On the 16th, with his only shot with a wood of any kind – in this case a five – he put himself within 250 yards of the hole in the short stuff. A 5-iron left him with 10 feet on the green and an easy two-putt for birdie.
On the 17th, he tethered a 7-iron beautifully to 6 feet and visited the bird sanctuary again.
The unsung local hero of the day was Battle Mountain’s Mike Jones. The senior shot a 91 at Vail Tuesday, but promptly shaved off 12 strokes at Gypsum Creek for a great round of 79. That was particularly important for the Huskies as Brady McDonald had a difficult day with 84.
“Mike just didn’t play well at Vail,” Huskies coach Cassie Desmone said. “He shot an 80 at Bookcliff. He had an 80 at Battlement Mesa. I know what he’s capable of shooting. He hasn’t played for us in the past, but we always see him on the golf course. He was rattled (Tuesday). He was so disappointed after Vail, he thought he wasn’t going to play at (Gypsum Creek). I said, “‘Yes, you are and you’re going to redeem yourself.'”
And not to be overlooked, Vail Mountain’s Harrison Alonzo also tamed Gypsum Creek with a 79, while teammate Christian Bohren carded a nice 88.
The Huskies seem to have a trio of golfers – and maybe even four, if Jones plays like he did Thursday – set for regionals, if they can get them all together in one place on one day. Michael Wilhelm is off in Florida this week, and Dillon McDonald will miss next week’s swing through Devil’s Thumb in Delta and Cobble Creek in Montrose because, well, he’s playing Pebble Beach.
Wilhelm, Dillon and Brady McDonald and Jones should all be together for the Haymaker-Yampa (Steamboat Springs-Moffat County) portion of the schedule in two weeks.
In the meantime, Eagle Valley seems to have a spirited competition, Bontempo aside, within its squad among its top 10 or so golfers on the black and red teams. Dustin Arguello shot an 85 and Stuart Rasmussen come home with an 87 as the Devils’ second and third scorers.
Meanwhile, Taylor Sanchez and Tanner Coulter both carded 81s, continuing to make their case to be among the four golfers who will go to regionals in September. Complicating the picture is senior Austin Fahrenholtz, who qualified for state last year, but finished with an utterly-frustrating and unusual 91 Thursday.
The battle for spots on the regional teams will continue next week, as the Devils will also be at Devil’s Thumb and Cobble Creek. The latter is of particular import since that course hosts regionals, which means players will be focusing on the tournament competition itself as well as studying the course for the future.
“I’m going to see what shots I should and shouldn’t do,” Bontempo said. “I want to get a good look at it and take some notes.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.