Mentally strong Russell prepares to make up ground on links

CRAIG — Missing a couple of short putts at Monday’s first round of the Class 4A state golf championships made Justin Russell a little tense.

He calmed his nerves on the back nine, shooting himself back into contention for today’s final round of the 36-hole tournament.

The Montrose High School senior finished at even-par-70 to put him in a tie for second place, but he’s got some ground to make up.

Valor Christian’s Wyndham Clark set a blistering pace on the first day with a 4-under 66.

Russell’s score helped Montrose take the lead in a tight team race.

With Drew Trujillo shooting a 74 and Branden Walters a 77, the Indians stood at 221, just two strokes ahead of Valor Christian.

Russell bogeyed two of the first three holes. He had a chance to make up for it before the turn.

“I missed two little putts, one for birdie and one for bogey,” he said.

He made up for it with a 2-under 33 on the back side, including a nearly 40-foot putt for birdie on No. 12.

“Justin is a great putter. The reason for that is he’s strong mentally,” Montrose coach Angelo DeJulio said.

“My goal (on Monday) was to go 3 under, but I’m satisfied with 2 (under),” Russell said.

DeJulio was more than satisfied with his team’s performance through the first 18 holes.

“The kids hung in there and they’ve done that all year,” DeJulio said. “I know we’re going to be in there.”

They’ll have plenty of challengers. Five teams are within 10 strokes of Montrose in the team race.

D’Evelyn is third at 224, just a shot behind Valor Christian. Greeley Central is fourth at 227, Lewis-Palmer fifth at 228 and Rock Canyon sixth at 231.

Russell was tied for second with D’Evelyn’s Brenden Beeg. In third with a 70 was Dominique Johnson of Montezuma-Cortez.

“It was just solid,” Johnson said of his 1-over round. “If I missed a green I was up and down.”

Johnson, a senior playing in his third 4A state tournament, has not finished better than 29th place in his previous two tournaments.

“I tried to give it one last run,” he said of playing in his final high school tournament.

“I feel confident I can play well (today), maybe even better.”

Valor Christian is a second-year school of just under 390 students in Highlands Ranch. It is in its first year of Colorado High School Activities Association-sanction sports.

Clark, who’s just a freshman (Valor Christian currently has only students in grades 9-11), surprisingly wasn’t hitting his tee shots well on Monday.

“I didn’t hit my driver worth a darn, but my short game and putting were good,” he said.

Conversely, Russell got close but couldn’t get some makeable putts to drop.

“I was missing left and right,” he said. “If I get that down, I’ll be set.”


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