Payson High School golfers travel Friday, May 10 to Antelope Hills Golf Club in search of the Division III state championship that eluded them last year when the Longhorns had to settle for second place behind then-defending state champion Yuma Catholic.
Looking back, we remember a rough opening day during which the team carded a 324 and fell to fourth place, 11 strokes off the pace of Yuma Catholic. That performance doomed Payson’s state title hopes.
But the Horns put on an amazing rally the following day, carding a tournament low 301 to finish as state runner-up, eight strokes behind champion YC.
Only two players off that team, Anthony Smith and Tyler Apps, graduated last spring. That means the returning players will have valuable state tournament experience when the 2013 finals tee off next Friday, and continue through tomorrow at the Prescott area course.
Some high school golf teams around the state that struggled mightily to record the five qualifying scores needed to enter for the Division III state tournament, but the Longhorns met the standard less than a month into the regular season.
It took the Horns much less time than most prep squads to qualify partly because the team has one of the state’s finest players, Dean Harpe, on the roster.
But high school golf is a team game and to succeed the Horns need others to step up.
This season, those contributions have come from Jeffrey Kelley, Mason Ridley, Tod McCarthy, Katie Schouten and Kelsie Bossert.
Relying on the talents of Harpe and the others, Horn golfers took their first step toward qualifying for the regular season-ending Division III state tournament by carding a winning 148 score at a three-way match played March 5 at Chaparral Pines.
In the match, played in the standard play 5, keep 4 scores format, the qualifying standard was 168, which the Payson team beat by 20 strokes.
Individually for Payson, Harpe claimed low medalist honors with a 3-under-par 33.
Kelley was second overall at 36.
Coach Denny Morse, in his first year at the helm of the program after serving as a junior varsity coach for more than a decade, predicted at the time that Harpe and Kelley would emerge as two of the finest high school golfers in the state.
So far, his prediction has been on target.
Also for Payson at Chaparral Pines, Ridley carded a 39, Bossert polished off a 40, Schouten had a 49 and McCarthy came in at 54.
On March 19 at Snowflake Golf Course, the Horn golfers continued to give early indications of how good they were going to be by dominating the six-team match with a 149.
Individually, Harpe finished at 3-under-par with a 33 to take low medalist honors.
Also for Payson, Ridley tallied a 38 and Kelley and Bossert came in at 39.
The Longhorns were equally dominating in the 12-team Thatcher Invitational played four days earlier at Mt. Graham Golf Course near Safford.
With a meet-low 318, PHS ran away with the Thatcher title. They easily disposed of runner-up Safford (330) and bronze medalist Morenci (334).
While the Horns won almost every tournament they played during the regular season, the team came up short on April 5-6 while defending its Wickenburg Invitational title.
Valley Christian, a team likely to battle the Horns for the state championship, came out on top in Wickenburg with a score of 597. The Horns finished second at 647.
Harpe finished as low medalist, shooting a two-day score of 141 (73, 68), which was 2 under par.
The tricky Antelope Hills’ courses will pose obstacles for Horn golfers, and other qualifiers for that matter.
Those who have played there say the two courses offer different challenges.
The historic North Course opened in 1958 and is a traditional, tree-lined course with small greens that require more accuracy than power.
“North might be the tough one because it is larger and there are more mature trees,” said Bret Morse, last year’s coach.
The South Course was added in 1992 and is a more wide-open track with large greens and plenty of mounding which, players say, is a totally different experience than the North Course.