TIGERS TAKE AIM
GJ golfers set high goals for Class 5A tourney
The Grand Junction High School boys golf team is treating the word “expectation” in the manner some weekend hackers treat the 3-iron. Don’t even put it in the bag.
Or, in the Tigers’ case, leave expectations at home. There’s no place for them at the Class 5A state tournament Monday and Tuesday at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora.
On the other hand, goals are like the extra wedge or hybrid club you carry instead of a long iron. They’re useful.
So, the Tigers — juniors Donny Kinnaman, Greg Gibson and Ben Volkmann and freshman Trevor Olkowski — have goals, lofty ones, chief among them being to win the team championship. Meanwhile, Kinnaman and Olkowski, who both won multiple medalist honors during the season, can dare to dream of winning or placing high individually.
“You can’t go out there and expect to win, because you’re just putting pressure on yourself,” said Kinnaman, who finished fourth at the state meet a year ago and led after the first round of the two-day tournament.
But the goal, he said, “is always to win.”
That’s the way Grand Junction coach Tom LeFebre wants his players thinking. They’re competitors, all of them, and they should believe if they play well, they’ll place high. That attitude is necessary.
“If you don’t have high goals, it’s hard to do that,” LeFebre said of winning.
But excellent teams congregate at the state meet, and golf is a game in which many variables come into play. The Tigers could play championship-level golf and run into a team that’s just a little better during the two rounds.
So, if Grand Junction doesn’t win the team title, the Tigers are aiming for the top five, a goal Volkmann mentioned was what the team put on its goal sheet.
LeFebre said the approach the Tigers need to take is one that doesn’t look at the end result. Instead, it’s about playing your best on the hole you’re on.
“We’re going with the goal of winning,” he said, “but during the round we have to focus on the hole, the shot at hand.”
If they do that, they can accept whatever place that nets them, and LeFebre won’t be surprised if the Tigers contend for the top.
“They’re a talented group of kids with the potential to do very well,” he said.
Elevated distance estimates
When the Tigers were asked what their average distance is off the tee, they all thought in terms of hitting their drivers. Kinnaman guessed he was 300 to 310 yards. Olkowski and Gibson guessed they were around 280 to 290 yards, and Volkmann figured he was around 270.
LeFebre said take whatever number they gave and subtract about 30 yards, emphasizing it’s the average distance. LeFebre then turned to his smart phone to search for the PGA driving leaders and told the group that Dustin Johnson is second on the PGA Tour, averaging 306 yards.
The players countered LeFebre with, “That’s at sea level. We’re at altitude.” Volkmann added, “We’re beefy kids, Coach. C’mon.”
Kinnaman’s teammates had fun answering for him, tossing out the numbers 380 and 400.
Strength is his weakness?
Asked about the strongest part of his golf game, Olkowski said, “I don’t know if I have a strength.”
To that, LeFebre and Kinnaman countered, “Ball striking.”
That also was LeFebre’s answer for the strongest part of Kinnaman’s game, even though Kinnaman listed it as the area where he most needs to improve.
When the rest of the Tigers told him there was no way that was a weakness in his game, Kinnaman explained it’s the part of his game he works on the most.
Kinnaman listed putting as his strength, but LeFebre said that’s actually the area where Kinnaman can improve.
“If he eliminates three-putts,” the coach said, “his scores go really low.”
Rare shot, rarer explanation
LeFebre made his point about the consistency of Olkowski’s ball striking by pointing out Olkowski had a rare bad shot during a practice round Tuesday at Bookcliff Country Club.
Maybe bad wasn’t a strong enough word.
“It was the worst shot I’d ever seen you hit,” LeFebre told the freshman.
Olkowski knew exactly which shot it was, on hole No. 5, but explaining it wasn’t so exact.
“It was kind of a chunk-top-shank into the water,” he said. “I don’t even know what it was.”
Golfer has hoop dreams
Discussing the amount of time each Tiger spends working on his golf game in the summer, Kinnaman estimated he practices eight to 10 hours a day; Olkowski said he played a round of golf every day with the exception of one or two days; and Gibson figured he practices two to three hours a day.
Then there’s Volkmann. His favorite sport is basketball; golf isn’t even close, which is why LeFebre asked, “If you think about golf while shooting baskets, does that count (as golf practice)?”
Volkmann grinned and admitted, “I played two rounds of 18 over the summer.”
If Volkmann dedicated himself to golf, LeFebre contends he would be a really good player. As is, he’s a good No. 4 player on a team that won a lot of tournaments this season.
They know what he’ll say
The Tigers are serious about golf, but they have their fun. Some of it comes from ribbing their coach with his “coach-isms.”
“They often repeat the cliches back to me,” LeFebre said.
Proceeding to list them, several players said simultaneously, “Stay below the hole.”
Gibson rattled off, “It’s simple geometry, boys,” and, “It’s not how good your good shots are, it’s how good your bad shots are.”
LeFebre said they all know what to say if you ask any of them, “What is the most important shot in golf?”
The coach’s consistent answer: “The next one.”
Teaching cents and common sense
Olkowski gets asked to do the math for the tip any time the team eats at a restaurant. When the bill arrives, it’s automatic LeFebre will ask: “Trevor, what’s 20 percent of … ?”
“I can never get it,” Olkowski said. “I’m getting better.”
With LeFebre’s geometry “coach-ism” and the quizzing of Olkowski on tips, he was asked, “Are you a math teacher?”
“No,” he replied, “just a common-sense teacher.”
The brainy bunch
LeFebre said the Tigers are excellent students, a claim supported by their grade-point averages.
Gibson is third in his class with a 4.308 GPA, and Kinnaman is fourth at 4.23. Volkmann is no slouch at 4.1.
Olkowski is a good student, too, LeFebre said, he just doesn’t have a GPA yet because he’s a freshman.