Golfers Second At State

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There will be no state title repeat for the Payson High School golf team.

At the 3A championship tournament May 8 and 9 in Wickenburg, the Horns carded a 644 to finish as Arizona runners-up in the 16-team field.

Top honors went to a Sedona squad that blistered the par 72, 6,600-yard Caballeros Golf Course with a 608.

Sedona's victory came as no surprise to Longhorn coach Bret Morse who predicted early in the season that the team was the most talented in the 3A conference.

Although the Longhorns were unable to repeat their 2001 title, the silver medal showing was another statement that the PHS golf program is one of the best in the state.

"We have a good tradition growing," Morse said. "We have been state champs or runners-up three out of the past four years."

Under Morse and previous coach Dave Bradley, the Horns also have finished among the state's top five the past five consecutive seasons.

Trailing Sedona and Payson in the standings were East region champion Snowflake (661), Fountain Hills (67) and Wickenburg (680).

Safford, a team that finished second at state last season, was sixth with a 687.

Individually, Payson's Billy Bob Hoyt played his way to second-place laurels with a two-day total of 147. Hoyt's tally included a 73 on the first day and a 74 the second.

Championship honors went to Sedona's Sean Ernes who followed up an opening round of 70 with a 74 (144).

Sedona's Jake Grodzinsky, one of the most acclaimed players on the prep tour, struggled to a third-place finish (153).

For Payson, Brandan Kelley was the only player other than Hoyt to finish among the top 10. His 160 (81 and 79) was good enough for a ninth-place medal.

Hoyt's runner-up finish represented an effort that was five strokes better than his third-place finish in 2001. This most recent feat was accomplished on a much tougher course than the one the state tournament was held last season.

"His game is maturing," Morse said.

Although he finished second, Hoyt was in position with 12 holes remaining to be played to make a run at Ernes.

"I thought Billy might catch him. If only a few more putts would've fallen, he would have," Morse said.

The coach also praised Hoyt for "playing very steady for two days and hitting the ball well enough to win."

Morse said Kelley had a good showing in tough conditions that included wind gusts that blew shots off target. Kelley's card was just one stroke behind last year's state champion Ryan Miller of Sedona (sixth; 157).

Payson's John McDermott just missed placing in the tournament's top 10 winners; he finished 11th with a 162 (81 and 81).

"John played with a 3-inch cut on his hand. That was gutsy play," Morse said.

'An exciting run'

Entering the tournament, the defending champion Longhorns were seeded fifth partly due to regular season losses to Sedona, Snowflake, Safford and Fountain Hills.

Because the Horns were not seeded among the top teams, they were not allowed to play with the leaders on the opening day.

But by the end of the first round, the Horns had played well enough to earn a second-place standing.

The scores at the end of opening round were: Sedona (301), Payson (324), Snowflake (333), Fountain Hills (339), and Safford (340).

Morse praised the Longhorns early round efforts.

"I was proud of the guys for their focus and concentration," he said. "It's tough to chase the top-seeded teams while being paired with the second tier teams."

Although Sedona had built a commanding lead, Morse and his charges were confident they could make up the deficit once second-day play rolled around.

"We had a meeting that night and said we're going to go after them with our best effort," Morse said.

If the Longhorns didn't have the firepower to catch Sedona, Morse said, the team decided to "at least make sure they have to play well to beat us."

On day two, the team did make a run at the eventual champs, playing what Morse called nearly flawless golf on the first six holes. At the end of those six, the Longhorns were two over par as a team and Sedona was eight over.

"We had made up some of the strokes early in the round and put a little bit of pressure on the leaders. It was an exciting run," Morse said.

A Longhorn come-from-behind victory, however, was not to be.

"In the end, Sedona rose to the occasion and put together four solid rounds which notched the victory. It was an impressive performance," Morse said.

With the season at an end, several of the players, including Hoyt and Kelley, will turn their attention to the junior golf circuit. Those who choose to compete can play in as many as two JGAA tournaments each week.

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