Team win at Warrior Invite is first in years for Palisade
His initial incredulity warrants forgiveness. Kyler Smith meant no disrespect to Jeremiah Hughes. He just wasn’t up for any kidding around about something that in his senior season was rivaling the search for the Holy Grail.
So, when Hughes said his score was 79 at Tiara Rado Golf Course on Tuesday, Smith asked his Palisade High School teammate, “Really?” Then he asked him again, “Really?”
When he realized the Bulldog junior wasn’t messing with him, and the final team scores were posted, he felt a long-awaited joy. Palisade, as a team, had won a boys golf tournament, Tuesday’s eight-team Warrior Invitational hosted by Central High School.
Smith has experienced plenty of individual success as Palisade’s No. 1 player since his freshman year. But the Bulldogs as a team had not won a meet during that time. For that matter, Palisade coach Jan Norell said the Bulldogs had not won during her tenure, which she couldn’t recall the duration off the top of her head. She guessed six, maybe seven years.
“It’s been a drive to just want to win as a team the last three years on varsity,” said Smith, a two-time state-tournament qualifier. “Now, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ “
Smith kicked himself for doubting Hughes, remembering a summer ACE High School Golf Tour tournament at Tiara Rado in which Hughes carded an 80, his previous personal best at the course. And Smith said the realization immediately set in: His 78, Skyler Miller’s 77 and Hughes’s 79 were going to be low enough to win.
Sure enough, as the scores for Palisade’s players were posted on a wall outside the pro shop, the Bulldogs’ 234 strokes were four better than Fruita Monument, which was fresh off a victory Monday at the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, where the Wildcats were 10 strokes better than runner-up Palisade.
Norell spoke after Monday’s tourney about how hard her players were working to provide a No. 3 scorer to complement the steady Smith and Miller, the medalist at Monday’s meet with a 71 and the runner-up Tuesday, tied with Central’s Preston Grandbouche at 77, one stroke behind winner Will Berg of Fruita Monument.
One day after shooting a 116 on a course he doesn’t play often, Hughes shot 37 strokes better on a course he said he plays about three times a week in the summer.
“I was just looking forward to playing a course where I know where to hit,” Hughes said of his approach Tuesday. “I just thought to myself: You have to keep your head up. Everyone has bad rounds. That was a little extreme of a bad round.”
He threw Monday’s scorecard in a trash can at Redlands Mesa.
“I didn’t want to look at it anymore after that,” Hughes said.
He showed Tuesday’s scorecard to his coach like it was a golden ticket, to which Norell smiled wide and praised him. Hughes shot 8-over on the front and even-par on the back in the shotgun-format tourney. His back nine included six consecutive one-putts, holes 12 to 17.
“I played really well today, hit a lot of fairways,” Hughes said.
With that elusive victory in tow, Norell said her team should be happy but not content.
“Our goal is to improve as a team,” she said. “And it’s not just (establishing) a third person, it’s a third and a fourth.”
Overall, the scores were on the high side for Tiara Rado, and players were at a loss to explain it.
Berg didn’t think his 76 was going to net him a second straight title at the tourney where he fired a 69 a year ago. His best guess was the drastic change in greens from the fast ones at Redlands Mesa to the much slower ones at Tiara Rado messed with players’ putting. He added the rough is more difficult to hit from than it was earlier in the summer.
Maybe more players needed what Grand Junction High School’s Preston Jull got from his coach, Tom LeFebre. After Jull had a rough time on No. 12, LeFebre gave the Tigers’ only senior some advice.
“He told me to stay mentally focused and just get some pars,” Jull said.
Jull did more than that. He rattled off nine pars in a row and broke 80 for the first time in his life, carding a 79.
“If I’d known he would do that, I would have told him that a long time ago,” LeFebre said.