Out-dueling runner-up Show Low at the Rim and Chaparral Pines golf clubs, the Payson Longhorn golf team easily played its way to the 2000 East region championship, finishing with a two-day tally of 698. Carding a 720, the Cougars were forced to settle for silver-medal honors.
The single glitch in last week's crowning achievement is no one seems to know if the regional championship is a first for the PHS golf program.
There are no trophies on display at the school that would indicate a regional championship, no records reveal a title and long-time Horn fans said they can't recall a golf team winning a championship.
In 1985, former coach Ted Pettet led the Horn linksters to a state third-place finish but the team didn't win a regional title because there was no region in place for the squad to participate in.
"In those days and before me, there was not enough schools in the region that played golf, so we just went looking for matches," he said.
Pettet and current golf coach Dave Bradley said their best guess is that last week's crowning achievement was probably the school's first regional golf title.
The road to the crown
At the onset of the season, Bradley predicted his charges would have a solid shot at the East crown, mainly because the team held the home-course advantage.
The first 18 holes of the regional tournament wereplayed at Chaparral Pines and the second 18 at the Rim Club.
Since both are the home courses of PHS team, local players had the distinct advantage of being familiar with the nuances of the two courses.
On the opening day, the Longhorns jumped out to an early lead, finishing at 348. With a 363, Show Low ended day-one in second place.
The Horns assured themselves of the East title, winning the second day 350-357 over Show Low.
In the two day scoring, Snowflake (787) and Blue Ridge (791) were never in contention.
With the East crown in hoof, the Horns will take their act to the Torres Blancas course south of Tucson, where they'll try to earn the school's first state championship. The fray will be played May 4 and 5. Last spring, the Longhorns finished as the Class 3A state runners-up.
The prep heroes
At the conclusion of the regional tournament, Bradley and a bevy of Horn players were honored for their accomplishments during the season.
On the 10-member All-East team, chosen by individual regional tournament finishers, were Tyler Perna (first), Tyson McKee (third), Dallas Rensch (sixth), and Keith Stevens (seventh). Rounding out the squad were three players from Show Low, two from Blue Ridge and a lone Snowflake athlete.
Also, Bradley was named the region's Coach of the Year for his efforts in leading the team to the East crown.
In copping the prestigious title, Bradley acknowledged the contributions of his two assistants, Denny and Bret Morris.
"They've been a great help and we couldn't have (won) without those two," he said.
The coach also thanked the golf directors at both Chaparral Pines and the Rim Club for allowing the team to train and play on the two private, designer courses.
One of the highlights of the regional championship action was Perna's second-day play, when he toured the Rim course to the tune of a team-leading 80.
His best showing came on the front nine where he finished with an impressive one-over-par 37.
Had it not been for a narrowly missed eagle putt on hole nine, he would have carded even par.
Trailing Perna on the Payson scorecard was McKee (88), Rensch (89), Stevens (93) and Jeff Higgins (97).
On the first day of play, McKee led the Longhorn cause with a tally of 81.
Perna (84), Stevens (90), Rensch (93) and freshman Tyler Schrum (100) rounded out the PHS effort.
As the Horns prepare for the upcoming state showdown, they do so with one eye on the south, where the Safford Bulldogs are honing their skills for the state showdown.
Bradley predicts the Dogs to be the state championship favorites and said it will take a Herculean effort for the Horns to play on even terms with the canines.
"They're good from top to bottom," he said.
Bradley bases his prognostication on the way the Bulldogs flexed their prep golf muscle April 15 at the 11-team Snowflake Invitational Tournament. In winning the shoot-out with a 304, the closest any rival could come to the Dogs, was a 328 turned in by runner-up Show Low. With a 329, Payson was third.
In Snowflake, Perna's 79 paced the Horns. Others who participated were Stevens (81), McKee (82), Rensch (87) and Schrum (93).