High school, college golfers gain knowledge at RMO

Joey Saad watches in frustration Friday as his putt on the fourth hole at Tiara Rado Golf Course comes up short during the first round of the Enstrom Rocky Mountain Open. Saad is one of several local high school or college players competing in the tournament to see how they measure up to the state and regional pros.

After Friday’s opening round at the Enstrom Rocky Mountain Open, Fruita Monument High School senior Joey Saad had one goal on his mind — a nap.

Saad competed in high school events Monday, Wednesday and Thursday before entering the three-day Rocky Mountain Open. So despite shooting a first-round 7-over-par 77, which puts him in a tie for 31st place among the amateurs, rest stood atop Saad’s to-do list.

Despite his exhaustion, Saad knows Colorado’s oldest open tournament offers a wealth of knowledge as he takes on some of the state’s, and the region’s, best players.

“It’s definitely not like a high school tournament,” Saad said. “It’s competitive. Every single person out here can shoot a pretty good number. And most guys out here know the course.”

It’s a lesson he, fellow Fruita senior Will Berg and a host of Colorado Mesa University golfers are absorbing this weekend, their first RMO experience.

Unlike their high school days, they can’t scramble and still lap the field. Now, they’re running with professionals. Every mistake is magnified and also an opportunity to learn.

“That actually makes you play better if you’re playing with good guys,” Saad said. “You focus more.”

Berg fingers a lesson he learned Friday. He admits he turned timid hitting from the championship tees, a strategy that cost him a couple of shots as he finished at 82. In this field, a couple of shots is a lot. But it’s a lesson learned.

“I just have to stay aggressive,” Berg said. “When I try to lay it up, I end up hurting myself. I just have to play like I can, attack all the pins.”

For incoming Mesa freshmen Sean Robbins and Derek Despres, the tournament is a golf lesson and an introduction to Grand Junction and Mesa. Robbins, a Cherry Creek High School graduate who sits tied for third among the amateurs with a 71, moved into his dorm Sunday. Despres moved in Thursday and was out on the course Friday.

The level of competition they’ll see at the Rocky Mountain Open is at least equal to, if not better, than what the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference offers, Mesa golf coach Paul Brown said.

“Instead of the usual high school kids, it’s a lot of older guys and some of them have a lot of game,” Despres said. “There was one guy in my group that kept sticking it within 10 feet.”

Playing in the tournament is a tradition Brown is trying to start at Mesa. With a golf program entering its third year, traditions are nonexistent. And it also gives Brown a chance to lay his eyes on some of his golfers for the first time before qualifying starts Aug. 26.

“I want them to be part of our community and part of the people who keep this tournament going and help it grow,” Brown said. “It gives the kids coming in an idea of what they’re going to be up against day-to-day. They’re going to be playing for something every day to make them better.”

Rifle’s Jeb Savage leads the amateur field with the 5-under 66 he shot at Tiara Rado. Grand Junction’s Scott Sullivan sits three strokes back.

Among the professionals, Dustin Pimm of Sandy, Utah, shot a tournament-best 9-under 62 at Bookcliff Country Club. The quartet of Nick Killpack of St. George, Utah, defending champion Ben Portie of Westminster, Riley Arp of Fort Collins and Trent Rommann of El Paso, Texas, trail Pimm by one stroke.


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