Guide to State Golf Tournaments

Whitefish boys look to retain team, individual titles; Flathead's Wynne in Class AA title hunt

By 406mtsports.com
Johnny Nix of Whitefish High School competes in the Kalispell Invitational at Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell on Sept 17, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

State AA golf

Last fall in Missoula, two of the Class AA state golf titles went to a local team. A similar outcome looks likely at this year’s State AA boys and girls tournament.

Cottonwood Hills Golf Course will host the State AA tourneys on Thursday and Friday. Bozeman Gallatin has a good chance to win the boys team and individual championships on the nearby course. The girls races look more likely to end with non-Bozeman area winners. Multiple, if not all, of the title chases should be competitive.

The first round began with a shotgun start Thursday at noon, two hours later than originally planned because of cold temperatures and potential frost in the morning, the Montana High School Association announced.

Here’s an overview of the 2021 State AA tournaments:

State Tournament: Sept. 30-Oct. 1

at Cottonwood Hills Golf Course, Bozeman

2020 medalists: Missoula Sentinel’s Kade McDonough (boys), Bozeman’s Sami Yates (girls)

2020 team champions: Missoula Sentinel (boys), Bozeman (girls)

For the first two years of their high school careers, Justus Verge finished first and twin brother Jordan Verge took second at the State AA boys tournament. Last fall, after they switched from Bozeman High to newly formed Gallatin, the Verges got a taste of the medicine they prescribed in 2018.

Missoula Sentinel’s Kade McDonough made Jordan settle for second and Justus for third at Larchmont Golf Course and Missoula Country Club last year. McDonough, a freshman at the time, shot a pair of 70s to finish at 3-under, four strokes ahead of Jordan. It was Sentinel’s first individual state golf title since 2005.

McDonough has been excellent again this fall, but he came up just short of a Western AA Divisional championship last week. Both he and Butte junior Jack Prigge finished with two-round totals of 143, and Prigge birdied the first playoff hole to win the title.

Helena Capital, benefiting from the addition of Joe McGreevey this season, finished first among Western AA teams, three shots ahead of Sentinel.

Prigge didn’t get to compete at state last season because COVID-19 contract tracing forced him to quarantine and miss divisionals. He finished tied for 19th as a freshman at the 2019 State AA tourney.

Jordan Verge looked ready to win his first individual state title at last week’s Eastern AA Divisional, where he shot a 70 and a 64 to medal. Justus finished second, six strokes behind his brother.

Justus and Great Falls CMR’s Eli Groshelle tied for third place at last year’s state tourney. Groshelle, now a junior, finished tied for fourth with Gallatin’s Ramey Lloyd and Billings Senior’s Reece Mayala at divisionals last week, while Billings Skyview’s Tye Boone placed third. Boone was tied for 15th at state last fall, Lloyd tied for 19th and Mayala tied for 20th.

The Verges and Lloyd led the Raptors to a 46-stroke team divisional championship, with Senior taking second.

The girls field will feature new faces challenging for the top spots after many of 2020’s top competitors graduating. As the five-time reigning champions, Bozeman has looked to replace 2020 champion Sami Yates (now golfing at Seattle University). Fellow Bozeman golfer Cooper Knarr finished one shot behind Yates at state last fall, and she’s now attending Harvard. Their teammate, Franchi Ceartin, is now at Montana Tech after finishing tied for fifth at state. Kalispell Flathead’s Marcella Mercer, who placed tied for third last fall in Missoula, also graduated in the spring and is golfing at Washington and Lee University.

Candidates to challenge for the next State AA girls champion come from Billings in Senior’s Kenzie Walsh, who finished tied with Mercer for third place as a freshman at the 2020 state tourney, and Billings West’s Bella Johnson. Walsh finished tied for fifth at last week’s divisionals, six strokes behind the winner in Johnson, who had a two-round score of 159. Johnson placed 14th at state last year.

One stroke behind Johnson at divisionals was Senior’s Lauren Mayala, who finished in a tie for 18th at state last year. Bozeman’s Ellie Atkins and Gallatin’s Addiley Lloyd (Ramey’s sister) ended up two strokes behind Johnson at divisionals. Lloyd was tied for 12th at last season’s state tourney, and Atkins was tied for 20th.

West won the Eastern AA team title last week, finishing 15 strokes ahead of second-place Senior.

Like the boys, Capital was the Western AA girls champion, edging Kalispell Glacier by two strokes.

Butte’s Kodie Hoagland was the Western AA divisional champion with a 156, one stroke better than Flathead’s Jillian Wynne. Hoagland finished tied for seventh and Wynne tied for 12th at state last season.

State A golf

After two years of finishing second at the State A girls golf meet, Macee Greenwood blew the competition away as a junior last fall, winning Montana’s Class A high school tourney by seven strokes.

The Corvallis senior doubled down on her golf dedication this past summer, but the extra traveling and tournament experiences weren’t always enjoyable. This season she re-dedicated herself to having fun and so far she’s succeeded.

There’s just one more task ahead of her: Repeat as champion this weekend in the State A meet at picturesque Polson Bay Golf Course in Polson.

“The thing about Macee is even if she has a bad hole, she can turn it on,” Corvallis coach Kristy Schlimgen told 406mtsports.com. “Last week in divisionals she played not her best game on the front nine, shot 44, then she turned around and shot 35 on the back to win.

“She has a beautiful swing and she knows how to score, knows how to manage a course, and she’s got a great opportunity to repeat. But it’s all about confidence and confidence in your swing and your short game.”

Greenwood is not the only golfer with a good chance to repeat in the 36-hole Polson event, which starts Friday morning and finishes Saturday afternoon.

The Laurel girls are a good bet to win their fourth team title in a row. Then on the boys’ side, Whitefish is a strong contender to repeat but will have its hands full with the likes of Laurel, Billings Central and Livingston. In the boys’ individual race, a new champion will be crowned and two expected to challenge are divisional champs Johnny Nix of Whitefish and Danyk Jacobsen of Livingston.

State Tournament: Oct. 1-2

At Polson Bay Golf Course, Polson

Note: Players will tackle a mixture of the old and new at Polson Bay. One day they will play the original 18, which includes the old nine visible from Hwy. 93. The next day it will be nine holes from the original course and nine newer holes.

2020 medalists: Macee Greenwood of Corvallis and Cameron Kahle of Whitefish. Kahle graduated in the spring of 2021.

2020 team champions: Laurel for the girls and Whitefish for the boys.

Greenwood has yet to decide where she will play college golf and her dream is to play on the NCAA Division I level. That gives her extra incentive to shine in Polson. But it’s certainly not going to be a gimme. Frenchtown freshman Katie Lewis has given her a run for her money all season and finished just two strokes behind Greenwood at divisionals in Hamilton. Eastern divisional champion Haylee Adams of Laurel is also expected to push for girls medalist honors.

The Laurel girls won the Eastern divisional with a score of 374 last week. It was 18 strokes better than runner-up Livingston. To put into perspective just how good that team score was by the Locomotives in Sidney, Corvallis won the Western divisional last week with a score of 389.   

On the boys’ side, it looks like a two-team race between Whitefish and Laurel. Whitefish scored 311 last week to win Western divisionals by 10 strokes over Polson. In the Eastern divisional, Laurel took top team honors with a score of 317. That was 11 strokes better than runner-up Livingston.

The chase for boys’ medalist honors is going to be intriguing. On paper, Nix is the favorite after carding a winning score of 73 at Western divisionals. He edged Jackson Heath of Hamilton and Reece Malyevac of Libby by three strokes. Jacobsen of Livingston won the Eastern divisional with a 77. Cameron Hackmann of Laurel was right behind him at 78.