One of the most remarkable feats in Payson High School golf history has been pulled off by a Longhorn team that was originally thought to be less talented than last year's record-setting state championship squad.
Competing Feb. 27 at a seven-team East regional tournament on the Silver Creek course near Show Low, the Longhorns set an 18-hole school record, finishing with a tally of 295.
The mark bests the previous school standard of 297 set last year at the East region championship meet in Pinetop.
What made the accomplishment even more remarkable, coach Bret Morse said, was that the new school record was set on a course that is more difficult than Pinetop.
Billy Hoyt (70), Brandan Kelley (73), John McDermott (73) and Jeff Higgins (79) were on the Longhorn team that blistered Silver Creek's par 71 course.
The fifth member of the team, Kyle Kent, finished with an 80.
In prep golf, five team members from each school compete, but only the top four tallies are used in the final scoring.
Tournament runner-up Snowflake finished a distant second, carding a 333.
In the 35-player field, Hoyt was the individual low medalist. Kelley and McDermott tied for second, Higgins was fourth and Kent fifth.
Morse said he was surprised by the team's exceptional performance in the season opener.
"How do you explain that (the record)?" he wondered aloud. "I really don't know it wasn't expected."
However, while watching the players tour the course in record-setting fashion, the coach picked up on the fact that most were focused on the task at hand.
"They didn't make any big mistakes that really hurt them," he said.
The Longhorns performance in the season opener did leave some wondering what the effects would be of setting a school record so early in the campaign.
"Where do they go from here?" PHS jayvee coach Denny Morse, Bret's father, asked.
In preseason practices at Chaparral Pines and the Rim Club, the team was struggling to overcome the loss of two of its most accomplished players Tyson McKee and Tyler Shrum from last year's gold medal team. McKee graduated last spring and Shrum's family moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo.
During those early practices, Morse predicted the team would only be as good as its three and four players in the lineup.
The performance of McDermott, Higgins and Kent might have soothed any anxieties the coach had about team depth.
With the victory at Silver Creek, the Longhorns stamped themselves as a favorite to repeat as East region champions and a solid contender for a second successive state title.
In JV action Feb. 27 on the Snowflake municipal course, the Horns opened the campaign successfully winning the tournament with a 355. Host Snowflake was second (366).
Allen McDermott's 84 earned him low medalist honors. Troy Marrs (88) was second and J.R. Szabo (89) fifth in the 30-player field. Payson's fourth player, Tyler Danielson, finished at 94.
The varsity team returns to action today (Tuesday) in a three-way 9-hole meet at Sun Ridge Canyon. Fountain Hills and Sedona two of the teams Morse pegged to battle for the state championship will be in the field.
The PHS junior varsity travels to Concho course tomorrow (Wednesday) for an East region 18-hole showdown.