Payson High School athletes and coaches can now thumb their noses at the cynics who predicted a small-town Arizona team couldn't be competitive in the 4A conference.
The Longhorn golf team proved Thursday afternoon at Chaparral Pines Golf Club that a first-year member of the 4A conference, fresh from 3A circles, could excel against the big schools by winning the Grand Canyon Region championship.
From the onset of the two-day, 36-hole gold medal go-around, there was never much doubt the Longhorns would prevail. At the conclusion of the opening round, Payson held a 15-stroke advantage over its nearest competitor Flagstaff Sinagua.
At the end of the final day, the Longhorns had expanded their cushion over Sinagua to 22 strokes.
Most impressively, the Longhorns earned the regional title while not playing their best golf. "We could have played much better. We we're off our game," coach Bret Morse said.
In winning, Payson finished with a two-day total of 672. Runner-up Sinagua carded a 694. Trailing the two regional leaders were Mingus (718) and Page (791).
The charge to the Grand Canyon gold was led by the one-two punch of Billy Bob Hoyt and Brandan Kelley. The pair tied for tournament silver medalist honors with identical cards of 167. Hoyt tallied an 81 on the first day and an 86 on the second. Kelley finished 85 and 82.
Regional champion Stephen Cook of Mingus posted a 156. His card included a 75 on opening day and an 81 the second.
Payson's Troy Marrs was a model of consistency with an 85 and an 86. Brad Meyocks paced the Longhorns on opening day tallying a 78. On the second day, he fell to 94. Tyler Danielson was the Horns' fifth-place finisher with a 184 (85 and 89).
The all-region first team, which consisted of the top five tournament finishers, included Cook, Kelley, Hoyt, Marrs and Sinagua's Mason Marsh (171).
On the second team were Meyocks B.J. Berman (Sinagua; 173), Danielson, Mike Krahe (Sinagua; 175) and Connor Clark (Sinagua; 175).
Berman, Marsh and Cook qualified individually for the state tournament by virtue of top-10 regional finishes. Payson will be the lone regional representative at the state tournament when it tees off tomorrow (Wednesday) at Sundance Golf Course near Buckeye.
According to Morse, state favorites will include Arcadia, Pinnacle and Millennium. The 36-hole state tournament wraps up Nov. 6.