Wildcats ready for state golf tourney
As Kelin Henke prepared to tee off on Hole No. 1 at Lincoln Park Golf Course on Thursday, Fruita Monument boys golf coach Dave Fox predicted what was to come.
He’s a baseball player, Fox said, so it will be a low line drive to center field. Henke stepped up to his ball and hit: a low line drive down the middle of the fairway.
Fox wishes coaching was always that easy. It isn’t. And golf in particular is prone to unpredictable fluctuations, so the Wildcats are entering the CHSAA Class 5A state golf tournament with no expectations. No pressure.
“I’ve really tried to play this really low-key,” said Fox, whose four-member squad won its regional in Colorado Springs to earn a team berth at state. “I just want them to go over (to Golden) and enjoy it.”
The philosophy is firmly embedded in the Wildcats, a group of three seniors — Will Berg, Hunter Emerson and Kelin Henke — and a freshman, Troy Dangler, who all are making their first state-meet appearance. They all spoke of playing the best they can and seeing how that measures up.
The Wildcats may be low-key, but they believe in themselves. Their five tournament wins this season were a product of talent and balance. When one player had a bad day, another made up for it. “One thing that’s been a big advantage for us is having four guys who’ve all thrown down a low score at some point,” Fox said “That balance has given us a lot of confidence.”
The Wildcats also know they’re capable of shooting lower as a team, and they hope state brings it forth. In particular, putting can improve. Berg left many tournaments with scores around 74 or 75, and if a few more putts had dropped, he would have shot par or better. Dangler can say the same thing. Each has taken recent measures to sharpen their putting for state.
Berg has met with his swing coach, Dan Summers.
“I worked with him on the putting stroke, making it more fluid,” Berg said. “It’s working out a lot better so far.”
Dangler recently switched to a belly putter. He had been inconsistent with his regular putter and decided to try the belly putter at a tournament in Durango and did well with it. He said anchoring the longer putter in his chest is more stable, making it easier to achieve the pendulum swing desired in putting.
“Now it’s in the bag,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot more confident. I haven’t necessarily seen results yet. ... It’s basically just a confidence builder.”
Getting to state for the first time as a senior is gratifying, as the Wildcats senior trio attested.
Berg came close previously, missing the cut by a stroke last year.
“It means a lot,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s what I’ve been working for the past four years. Also, to have the team go there means a lot.”
Emerson was more emotional in his response.
“It means so much to me,” he said. “I’ve worked for two years, hard. I just wanted to make it my senior year. I went out there (at the regional), had fun and put up a low number. ... That was my goal senior year, and more importantly we got our team to state.”
Dangler opened his freshman campaign with a tourney win, and his ability has been praised many times by other coaches during the season. His teammates chimed in Thursday.
“He has the most ability of all of us,” Emerson said.
“He’s going to be super-good,” Berg said.
Berg remembers being a freshman on Fruita’s varsity team and how he got there.
“At freshman tryouts I think I shot 72 and 72,” Berg said. “I don’t think I’d ever shot better than 80 before that.”
Add Central High School’s Preston Grandbouche to the group of seniors qualifying for state for the first time.
First-year Central coach Mike Hirons said he inherited a player that didn’t require much coaching from him.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “he’s done pretty much all of what he’s done on his own.”
That includes practicing enough to knock six to eight strokes off his scoring average from a year ago, Hirons said.
Grandbouche was the regional runner-up, shooting a 73, and Hirons said Grandbouche’s swing was dialed in that day.
“If he hits the ball like he did last week, he’s going to surprise some people” at state, Hirons said.
He also might provide a college a pleasant surprise, as Hirons said Grandbouche is considering playing at the next level.
“He’s a diamond in the rough,” Hirons said. “If someone picks up on him, they’re going to be glad they did.”