Last winter, the Whitefish High School golf team was doing two-a-day training sessions on the golf simulator to prepare for a spring golf season that involved heading south for a national tournament. After that invite, it was back to the Flathead for a summer of teeing off in preparation for the fall high school season, which culminated on Saturday in Polson.
The Bulldogs came in as the defending boys champions and finished the first day of the two-day tournament at Polson Bay with a four-shot lead over Laurel, with 2020 runner-up Billy Smith just a single stroke behind Laurel freshman Cameron Hackmann.
On day two, however, the Locomotives made up the deficit and forged ahead to win by nine strokes, paced by Hackmann’s medalist score of 71-67-138. Smith, a junior, shot a 73 for the final round to end up in second at 145.
“Billy played well, but maybe not to the best of his ability,” Bulldogs coach Tait Rocksund said. “But I think everybody got a good look at his potential and what he can do when he’s on.”
Rocksund said it came down to a putting game between Smith and Hackmann, and Hackmann was just sinking every one.
“Even Billy was saying he’d never seen anything like it,” Rocksund said. “It was just really fun to watch.”
Johnny Nix, a junior who won the divisional crown for the Bulldogs last week, finished ninth after dealing with a two-stroke penalty that was assessed and then withdrawn partway through the tournament after hitting a tree branch on a practice swing.
“I think I’m most proud of how Johnny bounced back from his almost-penalty,” said Rocksund. “It was a big moment to show his head was in it to deal with that and then go birdie the next hole.”
Finishing behind Nix, teammate Marcus Kilman tied for 10th and Wiley Brown and Bjorn Olson finished 17th and 20th, respectively.
On the girls side, Anyah Cripe was the top finisher for the Bulldogs after shooting 87-91-178 to finish 11th, while senior and first-year golfer Macy Whisenand made all-state honors with a tie for 14th.
Over in Bozeman, the Class AA tournament proved exciting for the Glacier Wolfpack boys who finished runner-up to Bozeman Gallatin, the team’s highest placement since winning the 2012 title.
“Going over and playing in Bozeman on what is essentially Gallatin’s home course was a challenge,” Glacier head coach Doug Manaker said. “But we saw just really great finishes for the kids.”
Glacier’s top two finishers, senior Will Salonen and junior Tyler Avery, improved on last year’s individual results to finish fourth and sixth, respectively, and brothers Trey and Sam Engellent tied for 20th.
“Will just put together two really good rounds of golf, and those two boys proved why they’ve been our top two golfers all year,” Manaker said.
Avery, who was eighth last year as a sophomore and third as a freshman, entered the tournament with his eye on the state title. After making par on his first hole of the tournament, however, he hit a quadruple bogey on his second.
“Quads are just demoralizing, especially early on,” said Avery, who finished the two-day tournament five strokes over. “I had 35 really good holes, and one bad one this weekend.”
Manaker said if any other golfer started a tournament like that, he would have been worried.
“Having coached Tyler for two years now, I’ve seen that he can face adversity and turn it around and right the ship,” he said.
In the girls individual standings, Glacier’s Chloe Tanner was the top local finisher with a tie for fifth, followed by Flathead’s Jillian Wynne in 10th and the Wolfpack’s Stella Claridge in 12th.
With Gallatin twins Justus and Jordan Verge, who have three state titles between them, graduating this spring, Glacier will be returning as the top boys team next fall, an opportunity the Wolfpack are already thinking about.
“We were very focused on getting that top mark and getting a team title this year,” Avery said. “Next year we’ll be looking at first again and as it stands, that’s where we should be.”
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