Staying in control of emotions key for Rifle team at 3A state golf

RIFLE — A drive to win got a pair of Rifle High School juniors back to the Class 3A boys state golf championship. A new approach on the course helped the rest of the team get there, too.

Thanks to the second-place finish in the Class 3A Western Regional Tournament at Rifle Creek Golf Course on Sept. 20, Rifle will go to a state tournament as a team for the first time since 2001.

The opportunity might not have presented itself, however, if it weren’t for an attitude adjustment early in the season.

“Lots of backwards hats, lots of hanging our heads after one bad shot,” first-year Rifle coach Jordan Smith said. “One of the things I pride our team on is how we carry ourselves on the golf course. If the guys are on their fifth or sixth hole and they’re struggling, I don’t want to see it.

“I don’t even want to see it until after the round. They’ve got to keep it contained. And we’ve done a great job of rebounding. We’ve got a bunch of grinders, and throughout the year, it’s what kept us in it and kept our confidence level up.”

Rifle will take that confidence to Dos Rios Golf Club in Gunnison for state Monday and Tuesday. Danny Bartels and Triston Quigley, each of whom reached last year’s state tournament in Eaton, will be joined by Jacob Withee and Ty Caron.

“We were thinking at the beginning of the year there would be two of us and maybe three,” Quigley said. “But as the year went on with all of the improvements we’ve made, we all pretty much knew we’d all go.”

The Bears’ second-place score of 239, 12 strokes behind tournament champion Aspen, earned them the state berth. Some high finishes along the way helped.

Quigley carded an even-par 70 for second place at an August tournament at Black Canyon Golf Club in Montrose, and he was second at Battlement Mesa that month, losing to eventual regional champ Jesse Beetham of Aspen in a playoff.

Bartels, Caron and Withee have each scored in the 70s this fall.

Some of that success might not have come had it not been for a change in attitude at the beginning of the season.

Smith wasn’t happy about the way some of Rifle’s players were acting and reacting to adversity. Rifle’s focus turned to controlling emotions throughout a round of golf, which in turn led to better scores.

“Even with me, there were some incidents where I’d say to myself, ‘This isn’t even worth it,’ ” Bartels said. “I’d miss some two-footers and wouldn’t line up a putt. I’d regret them at the end of the round because, in the end, just a couple of strokes can help your entire team out.”

By the time the regional tournament at Rifle Creek came around, every Rifle player carded a good enough score to qualify for state as an individual.

That performance has Rifle feeling focused and confident going into the state tournament.

“Our goal all year has always stayed the same. Our goal has been to win,” Smith said. “I told them at the beginning of the season that I didn’t take this job to lose, and I didn’t expect them to go into this season expecting to lose.

“And every time we’re getting ready to unload out of the van for a tournament, I make sure to let them know that we have the potential to beat anybody.”


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