VMS’ Bard wins at Eagle-Vail
EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – Surprise, surprise.
As the golfers came in to the clubhouse Wednesday after the annual Battle Mountain Invitational at the Eagle-Vail Golf Club, two things seemed obvious.
First, it was very clear that the course won.
“I’m retiring,” Battle Mountain’s Cooper Beals joked. “You can have my clubs.”
And it very much looked like the Huskies’ Cameron Brown’s 78 would stand up as the winning score. After all, theoretically, the top golfers in the field teed off on the first hole and all of them were done with their rounds and milling around the clubhouse.
Not so fast.
Vail Mountain School’s Alex Bard sauntered in, casually turning in his card – 75.
And with that, the VMS junior snagged medalist honors, becoming the first Gore Rangers golfer to win a high school tournament.
“This is bigger than making state,” said Bard, who qualified for the state tournament last fall. “It’s pretty sweet. I’ve won a few First Tee tournaments, but something like this is something that makes me pretty proud.”
Bard edged Brown by three strokes. Battle Mountain freshman Michael Wilhelm, playing on the Huskies’ second JV team, also made some serious waves by finishing third with a 79.
The Huskies won the tournament with 247 strokes, with Eagle Valley’s black team in second (256).
Charge your phone
Bard proved that pre-round preparation – like arriving at the course early, hitting different clubs at the range and putting – is not necessarily a key to success.
“I was completely surprised. I woke up at the time I was meant to be at the golf course,” Bard said. “My phone was dead, and it was my alarm clock. I hit five warm-up shots and didn’t get to putt.”
Bard started on the 14th with bogey-par-bogey and then got to work. He bladed a pitching wedge on the par-3 17th, but his ball hit the pin and came to rest quite nicely for an easy tap-in birdie.
The junior crushed his tee shot on 18, and got another nice bounce on his 190-yard approach on the par-5. His 5-iron hit a rake which kept him out of the back-left bunker. From the fringe, he two-putted for a tweeter.
While Bard did have some fortune early, he was steady for the rest of the day, and that was the recipe for success Wednesday. While others ran into big numbers on some holes, Bard had nothing but birdies, pars and bogeys on his card.
“We’ve worked on knowing the game, visualizing the shot and attempting to hit the shot,” VMS coach Ross Sappenfield said. “Alex applied that to his game. He played intelligent golf and abandoned bravado. He was trying to score.”
Bard found himself in the big left bunker in two strokes on No. 1, but hit a superb shot out of the sand for the save and another birdie. He also sank a 15-footer on the short, par-4 sixth for a birdie, but otherwise, he was very steady.
Having started on 14, Bard had escaped Nos. 15 and 16, the short par-4s which can make or break a round at Eagle-Vail, and he deftly parred No. 7, another trouble spot for field. He went out in 38 and came back in 37.
No. 16 strikes
Brown was the pre-tournament favorite, but two holes – Nos. 7 (double-bogey) and 16 (triple) – left him with a sour taste in mouth and a 78.
Brown clobbered his drive on the first and had only 140 yards and a pitching wedge left for a birdie. The Battle Mountain senior was even through six holes, but his tee shot found the cart path and out-of-bounds right on the seventh, leading to a double. Brown went out in 39, but birdied Nos. 10 and 11 to start the back.
Just 1-over par heading into the final four holes, he bogeyed 15 and then came the 16th. Brown played the short and water-filled part-4 smartly off the tee. He used just a 7-iron, which for him goes 190 yards, the correct distance, but his shot went left and into the trees.
Taking a stroke with an unplayable lie, his next shot went into the trees above the water-guarded green. After the dust settled, he had carded a seven and his hopes of winning the tournament were gone.
“I thought it would be a good day,” Brown said. “I thought I played well. Two holes killed me. I wasn’t happy with my front nine, and I pressed hard to turn things around. I got it to one-over before 15, and then …”
Battle Mountain golf coach Cassie Desmone knew that freshman Wilhelm could golf. He shot a 78 and an 81 at tryouts at Eagle-Vail. It’s just been a matter of getting his schedule to match with the team’s.
Since his family had been on vacation, Wilhelm was on Battle Mountain’s second JV team. He didn’t play like an untested freshman. Starting on 14, Wilhelm played steady par-bogey golf though his first nine holes.
On the fifth, he cranked a pitching wedge deftly 10 feet below the hole for a nice uphill putt and a birdie. Another tip to the bird sanctuary was in store on the seventh, where his approach was a beautiful 5-iron to 8 feet for a rare red number there.
Knowing he was playing pretty well, he had to par two of his last three holes – Nos. 11-13 – to break 80. He didn’t leave it to the last hole, parring the par-5 11th and jarring a clutch 6-footer on the 12th to come in at 79.
“It helps, for sure,” Wilhelm said. “I’m getting comfortable playing at this level and making shots when I need to. I’m not on varsity and I need to come out and play my best.”
Edgar Gaspar rounded out Battle Mountain’s scoring with an 82.
Too much power
Eagle-Vail plays “just” 6,204 yards from the regular white tees and has a misleadingly-low 69.5 rating and a 124 slope. But with tight fairways and plenty of hazards, this loop can get difficult quickly.
That was Eagle Valley’s issue Wednesday. Stuart Rassmussen and Evan Buzbee shot solid 83s, while the scores started to rise with Kevin Stough (86), Dustin Arguello (87), Nick Bontempo (88) and Austin Fahrenholtz (92).
Fahrenholtz had difficulty with the putter, a common problem, while others did not manage the course as well as Devils coach Tom Buzbee had hoped.
“Our guys continue to try to overpower the golf course,” Buzbee said. “With the exception of our two 83s, you have to play this golf course as delicately as possible. It’s an older golf course and it’s not made for metal woods.
“We were ready to play this course carefully. You can tell them it’s just one shot when the ball goes in the water, but it’s devastating mentally. This course really gets to you.”
And that brings the Devils and the rest of the field to an interesting situation with today’s tournament at Cotton Ranch. Eagle Valley serves as the host squad, yet just like Wednesday at Eagle-Vail, all the local teams know the Pete Dye course well.
While the back nine should produce low scores, it’s likely the front, and more particularly the mesa holes – Nos. 4-8 – which will determine the outcome. Though Nos. 4 and 6 are par-5s, precision, not length, is the name of the game here.
“We’re going to be talking about it tonight,” Buzbee said. “It’s a chance to redeem ourselves because it’s a similar style of golf.”
“I want to go play right now,” Brown said. “I want to tear it up right now.”
And, young Mr. Bard, it’s a 9 a.m. start, so charge your phone.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.
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