Payson’s high school golf team has finished among the top eight in the state the past five years.
They haven’t had an individual state champion in that period.
The Longhorns will try to keep the first streak going this season and may have a golfer capable of ending the other.
But they’ll have to do it without Jeff Kelley, who graduated and began this school year as a member of the Arizona Christian University golf team, but is currently taking a semester off for health reasons. He joined Tyler Apps (2012 graduate, Grand Canyon University) and Mason Dacanay (2010, Arizona Christian) as recent PHS graduates who’ve gone on to play at the college level.
“While it’s a rebuilding year, I believe the Longhorns will compete for a state berth,” said coach Denny Morse. “I’m reasonably sure we can pull it off.”
They’ve qualified as a team in 15 of the last 16 seasons, Morse said.
It may take more time this season, however. Teams need to post five qualifying scores to earn a berth in the state tournament, which is scheduled for May 16-17 at Antelope Hills Golf Course in Prescott. That’s because they begin the season missing two of their top five golfers.
Junior Mason Ridley, who has qualified for the state tournament individually the past two seasons, and sophomore Clayton White, who is also expected to be among the starting varsity five, are both expected to miss the first two weeks of competition for medical reasons.
“The last five years we play our first five matches and we qualify and we’re done,” Morse said. “It will be a challenge for us early in the season. But we’ve got just a great bunch of kids that are working hard.”
Among them is junior Dean Harpe, another two-time individual state qualifier who is looking to improve on his sixth place finish in last year’s state tournament. He finished just three strokes behind runner-up Trevor Lampson of champion Chandler Valley Christian. Harpe also finished 14th as a freshman to help the Longhorns finish second as a team.
“Dean should compete for the individual state championship this year,” Morse said. “He’s a legitimate Division I (college) athlete. There’s no question in my mind that he has that potential.”
Tod McCarthy is the team’s lone senior. Also returning from last season is junior Ben Myers. Freshman Mitchell McQuire is also expected to be among the top six. “He’s a seasoned freshman,” Morse said. “He’s played a lot of tournament golf in the last few years.”
Junior Austin Moss and sophomore Hunter Harrison are back on the team after starting on the junior varsity a year ago. New to the team are sophomores Reece Weaver, John Hughes and Donovan Cross; and freshmen Matthew Myers, Jordan Jones and Karman Randall, the team’s only girl.
Randy Matthews is the JV coach and Tom Harpe is the developmental coach. “They have just been a tremendous help,” Morse said.
“Tom’s working with first-year kids that have never played before. We’re teaching them to learn and love the game.”
Morse said the Longhorns’ home courses deserve a lot of the credit for the team’s success over the years.
“Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club are two of the finest golf courses in the state of Arizona and their support for our program over the years has no doubt helped make our program the quality program it’s been,” the coach said.
The Longhorns open the season at Snowflake against the Lobos, Holbrook, Mogollon and Show Low on Tuesday before hosting Blue Ridge and Snowflake at Chaparral Pines at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Payson High Golf Schedule
March 4 at Snowflake, 2 p.m.
March 6 Blue Ridge, Snowflake at Chaparral Pines, 2 p.m.
March 11 at Snowflake, 2 p.m.
March 18 at Snowflake, 12 p.m.
March 25 Phoenix Northwest Christian, Wickenburg at Chaparral Pines, 2 p.m.
April 1 at Show Low, 2 p.m.
April 4 at Wickenburg Inv., 1 p.m.
April 5 at Wickenburg Inv., 8 a.m.
April 15 JV at Payson Golf Course
April 16 at Antelope Hills, 2 p.m.
April 22 at Blue Ridge, 3 p.m.
April 25 High Desert Inv., 2 p.m.
April 26 High Desert Inv., 9 a.m.
April 29 at Blue Ridge, 3 p.m.
May 2 White Mountain Inv., 1 p.m.
May 3 White Mountain Inv.
May 9 Old 3A East Inv., 11:30 a.m.
May 16 Div. III State Tournament
May 17 Div. III State Tournament