Stern knows state trip hinges on regional finish
On the first day of last fall’s high school golf state championship, Grand Junction High School’s Mark Stern was simply overwhelmed.
At the Eisenhower Golf Course at the Air Force Academy, Stern shot a first-day 85, which put him at the back of the pack.
“Everyone at state is so good that it’s a little more intimidating,” Stern said. “You look over to your right and see kids smashing it 320 (yards).”
Stern rebounded on the second day, shooting a 77, which gave him a two-day total of 162 and left him in top 50 finishers.
“Last year it seemed like I wasn’t feeling the same, I didn’t have the same approach that I did at every other tournament,” Stern said. “I know if I make it back, I belong there and know I can compete with those guys.”
Stern’s opportunity to make it back to the state tournament is Wednesday at the Northern Regional at Riverdale Dunes Golf Course in Brighton. Grand Junction will be at the 16-team regional along with Central, Fruita Monument and Durango.
Stern is the only returning state qualifier from the Grand Valley. The Tigers’ senior said he knows his first trip to the state tournament qualifies him for nothing this year.
“I can’t look past the regional, because nobody gets a free ticket to state,” Stern said.
“That’s what’s tough about golf, it’s one day where you make it or break it.”
But Stern’s consistent play has him looking to punch his ticket back to state. He regularly has finished in the top 10 this season, including a third-place finish at the Montrose and Gunnison invitationals.
“He’s got a great work ethic,” Grand Junction coach Tom LeFebre said. “Over the four years he has worked hard to improve. He set the goal to get to state and accomplished that as a junior, so I know he has set goals as a senior to improve on that.”
Stern and the rest of the field will have to manage the course at Riverdale Dunes. The links-style course has a lot of hills and wild grass that can cause players problems.
“We played a practice round over there, and I played well,” Stern said. “It’s not a long course, which is good, because I’m not a big hitter, so if you hit it straight, you are fine.”
LeFebre said in addition to the tough course, players usually feel more pressure at the regional tournament than at state.
“There’s almost more pressure there because you have to play well at the regionals to get to state,” LeFebre said.
“Riverdale Dunes is going to be a good test for these high school kids.”
Grand Junction’s other golfers looking to make a run at the tournament include Cody Holman and Garrett Harrison. Fruita Monument is led by Joey Saad, Ethan Grider and Ryan Keeler. Central’s top players are Chad Johnson and Taylor Haynie.
Palisade’s regional tournament is today at Haymaker Golf Course in Steamboat Springs.
The Bulldogs had an opportunity to play a tournament at the course earlier this year, and Palisade coach Jan Norell said the Bulldogs made sure to pay attention to every hole.
“We took notes and I think the boys will play better this time around,” Norell said. “But you never know, it’s a golf tournament.”
Also at Palisade’s regional are Montrose, Battle Mountain and Montezuma-Cortez.