MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel’s Kade McDonough looked more like a seasoned high school veteran than the freshman he is during the first day of the State AA golf tournament Thursday.
McDonough shot the only under-par score on either the boys or girls side at Larchmont Golf Course to take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the two-day tournament Friday at the Missoula Country Club. He overcame a bogey on his first hole by collecting four birdies and just one other bogey the rest of the way to card a 2-under 70, helping the Spartans take the team lead after 18 holes.
It’s an individual outcome that didn’t come as a surprise to McDonough, who is ahead of a three-way tie for second that includes two-time defending champ Justus Verge of Gallatin.
“No, not really. I was expecting to lead,” the soft-spoken McDonough said. “Confidence is through the roof.”
McDonough may be a freshman, but he’s been golfing since he was about 3 years old, following in the footsteps of his father, who’s been a club pro across the country. He began entering junior tournaments the previous two years and realized this summer that he could be good in high school as he continued to chop strokes off his scores.
Earlier this season, he tried a tee shot that he calls a cut but his coach calls a fade, and he ended up shooting a round of 67, so he stuck with that left-to-right tee shot, including on Thursday. He also took a putting lesson earlier this week to help shore up that aspect of his game.
It helps that McDonough played on a course he’s familiar with, and he’ll have even more knowledge of the course when the tournament shifts to the Missoula Country Club for the second round. That’s his home course and one where the length to the hole is shorter but the fairways are tighter and the greens are smaller, requiring precision over power.
“I had a lot of confidence coming in because I’ve played here a lot,” McDonough said. “But I still had to shoot what I shoot, and I hit the ball very well today, which helped a lot.”
Sentinel’s team score of 305 is three strokes better than both Kalispell Glacier and Gallatin, which are tied for second with a 308. Spartans senior Jaden Dennis is tied for eighth with a 5-over 77, while junior Joe Opitz and senior Zach Hangas are both tied for 10th with a 7-over 79.
“There’s not a way to win on the first day, you just want to get in a good position, and I think we’re there,” Sentinel coach Craig Matosich said. “Friday will be a grind at the Country Club. We like that challenge. I think the kids will be looking forward to it.”
Glacier sophomore Tyler Avery ended the day in a three-way tie for second place, three-putting on the final hole after his second putt looped around the lip of the hole. He finished with three birdies and five bogeys for a 2-over 74, tying him with Gallatin juniors Jordan Verge and Justus Verge, the latter of whom is the two-time defending champ.
“Today was up and down,” Avery said. “With the greens the way they were, it was about who could place the ball in the right spots and get easy pars. The greens will show you tomorrow who the better players are.”
In tying for second as a team, Wolfpack junior Will Salonen is tied for sixth with a 4-over 76, while junior Keaton Cassidy and senior Sam Manaker each shot a 7-over 79 to tie for 10th.
“We’re in good shape after the first day,” Glacier coach Doug Manaker said. “We didn’t play our best, but to have four kids shoot in the 70s the first day puts us in striking distance. We took four or five holes to get going, but once we settled in after some jitters, some nerves, then we played better. I’m pleased with how we rebounded.”
In addition to the Verge brothers for Gallatin, Stevie Voight is tied for sixth with a 4-over 76, but the Raptors were hurt by a low fourth score as Gavin Klein shot a 12-over 84. Junior Ramey Lloyd, an all-stater last year, didn’t factor into the team score with a 13-over 85. Ramey and the Verge brothers were on Bozeman last year when the Hawks won their second consecutive title.
“I thought some of us had a tougher day and didn’t play to expectations,” Gallatin coach Matt Clark said. “I don’t know if anybody’s satisfied with how they played. We left a lot of shots out there. We’re looking to reload tomorrow.”
Also ending the day in the top 10 were Billings West’s Treyden Haber in fifth, Great Falls CMR’s Eli Groshelle tying for eighth, and Billings Senior’s Tyler Brunner, Helena Capital’s Caswell Bloomquist, Billings Skyview’s Logan Connolly and Missoula Big Sky’s Hayden Ellis tying for 10th.
Bozeman girls booming
On the girls side, Bozeman’s Cooper Knarr overcame a slow start to build a two-stroke lead by shooting a 4-over 76.
The senior felt things begin to click on hole No. 18, her ninth hole of the day, when she put together two consecutive good swings with her drive and approach shot. She shot for par on the next eight holes and finished the round with her second birdie after having four bogeys and one double bogey through the first seven holes.
“On the final nine, I was able to stay more consistent with hitting the greens,” Knarr said. “My iron game was a lot better on the final nine. I wasn’t hitting the greens enough on the first nine to make anything happen. Turning that around really, really helped me out, especially when the putting greens were a little too inconsistent to make a lot of putts today.”
Bozeman finished the day with the top three golfers, carding a 321 as a team to take a 34-stroke lead over second-place Billings West (355). Sami Yates fired a 6-over 78 to end the day in second, and Franchi Ceartin tied for third with a 7-over 79.
Knarr felt she and her teammates were helped by playing together as a team instead of being divided up with groupings determined beforehand based on previous scores.
“I was getting down on myself on the first nine because I wasn’t doing too well, so having my teammates beside me and being really cheery and happy really definitely helped and I felt helped the other girls too,” Knarr said.
Butte’s Ella Prigge tied for third with a 7-over 79, while teammate Kodie Hoagland was close behind in seventh with a 10-over 82. Their play helped the Bulldogs end the day tied for third as a team with Billings Senior, both of which shot a 357.
“Ella and Kodie both struck the ball pretty well the final nine once they got used to their environment and the greens,” Butte coach Eric Mankins said. “They settled down, were driving the ball and played a much better second nine.”
Billings West’s Kadence Fischer and Gallatin’s Halle Vandersloot both shot a nine-over 81 to tie for fifth and end the opening round five shots off the lead. West, Butte and Senior are within three strokes of each other and should be fighting for the final two team podium spots behind Bozeman Friday.
Rounding out the top 10 individuals are Kalispell Flathead’s Marcella Mercer, Billings Senior’s Kenzie Walsh and Helena High’s Celi Chapman, who had a three-way tie for eighth by shooting an 11-over 83, seven strokes behind the leader.
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