The head coaching baton in Payson High golf has been passed — but not very far.
It’s gone from Bret Morse, the highly successful coach of the past 15 years, to his father, Denny, who has been the junior varsity coach that same number of seasons.
Bret stepped down last season after moving his family to the Valley, which prompted PHS Athletic Director Don Heizer to almost immediately appoint his father the successor.
Bret departed the program after leading last season’s team to a Division III state runner-up finish that was highlighted by a spirited Silky-Sullivan like comeback on the second day of the tournament in Prescott.
From that team, Tyler Apps — who finished fifth at state — graduated last spring and now plays for Grand Canyon University. Anthony Smith graduated as well, leaving two holes on the roster for the new coach to fill.
But the PHS cupboard is not bare with Jeffrey Kelley, Dean Harpe and Mason Ridley returning to form the foundation of the 2013 team.
Morse contends Kelley, a senior, and Harpe, a sophomore, could eventually be ranked among the top 10 players in the state and possibly contend for player of the year honors.
Equally as important, Morse says, both have shown in preseason drills to have strong leadership skills which are key in building strong teams, no matter what the sport.
“Our kids this year are very responsible; they stay out of trouble and you don’t have to worry,” Morse said. “The attitudes are outstanding.”
As good as the returnees are, golf is a team game of six players which means Morse is scouring his roster to fill the vacancies created by the loss of Apps and Smith.
Among those expected to contend for varsity play time are Kelsey Bossert, Katie Schouten, Clayton White, Ben Myer, Tod McCarthy and Austin Moss.
Morse believes there is an intriguing trivia question among those players: “Which one’s father formerly played golf at Payson High?”
Bossert’s father, Butch, was on the Longhorn golf team 20-plus years ago, Morse answered.
McCarthy’s father also has an athletic pedigree of note, having been a golf pro, a former NFL punter and a PHS football assistant coach.
Morse also has some newcomers who could man the jayvee team this year. They include Hunter Harrison, Randy Wood, Chris Wacker and Jason Layni.
Originally, 14 student-athletes tried out for the golf teams but one dropped out to concentrate on his academics, leaving Morse with 13 players to man the varsity and junior varsity teams.
While at first that might not sound like a large number, Morse has no official assistant coaches this year and must rely on a group of dedicated volunteers and Heizer to help out.
Denny says his son will also be in Payson two days a week and is expected to drop by practices to help out.
With the onset of the season just over the horizon, Denny Morse is predicting the Valley-area parochial schools — Valley Christian, Gilbert Christian and Scottsdale Christian — could be the state title favorites.
“We have four different tournaments in which we will play those teams,” said Morse. “It will be a challenge.”
Yuma Catholic, a team the Horns rarely face because it plays mostly in Southern Arizona, could also be in the race for postseason berths, Morse predicts.
The coach, however, warns not to overlook Snowflake, Blue Ridge and Show Low in the race for honors.
Payson had a long-standing golf rivalry with the three when all were members of the now defunct 3A East region, which means when the teams clash this upcoming season, the matches could turn into blasts from the past.
In taking over the coaching reins from his son, Morse is lavish in his praise of Heizer and those volunteers who have stepped up to help in the program, “We couldn’t do this without them.”
He also thanks those at Payson Golf Course, Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club for allowing the team to practice and play on their courses.
The 2013 varsity season tees off at 2 p.m. March 5 at Chaparral Pines vs. Valley Christian and Gilbert Christian. The jayvee campaign beings 3 p.m. Feb. 27 at payson Golf Course vs. Northwest Christian.