With three of their top four golfers from last year’s Division 3 state tournament back this year, the Longhorns are looking to improve on last year’s sixth place finish when they compete in the May 16-17 event at Antelope Hills Golf Course in Prescott.
And coach Denny Morse believes Payson will do just that.
Chandler Valley Christian is the defending state champion and the Trojans are showing no signs of loosening their grip on the crown this season. But Morse says the Longhorns are quite capable of competing with every other team in the state.
“Valley Christian is the heavy, heavy favorite,” the coach said. “It appears to be a horse race (for second) between Goodyear Estrella Foothills, Payson, Phoenix Country Day and probably Yuma Catholic. But we also know that it’s always possible to come back.”
The Longhorns saw how formidable a foe Valley Christian is again at the High Desert Invitational at Antelope Hills on April 25. The Trojans had four kids shoot 76 or lower in posting a 292 score that gave them a 19-shot cushion over runner-up Estrella Foothills in the 22-team tournament. Payson placed third, just one shot back of the Wolves in that event, which was shortened from 36 to 18 holes by weather.
Leading the way this year has been junior Dean Harpe, the third-year varsity golfer. Harpe was PHS’s top performer in last year’s state tournament, finishing sixth.
“Dean has won most every match or tournament we have played in this year,” Morse said. “Dean has game and I know that he’s expecting great things at state. And more importantly for me he has shown some real leadership with some of my younger kids.”
It’s a young team with Tod McCarthy the lone senior.
Another junior, Mason Ridley, has consistently been the No. 2 golfer for PHS, although he’s also stepped up to lead the way occasionally. He fired a team-low 75 to finish eighth in the High Desert Invitational. Harpe carded a 77 to tie for 12th in the 90-player field.
“Mason has played really, really well,” Morse said. “Mason has thrown some tremendous scores in recently, all in the mid to low 70s. He, too, has been an outstanding leader for this team. I really commend those two young men.”
Freshman Mitchell McGuire has produced consistently strong scores all season. He shot an 83 in the High Desert Invitational. Junior Ben Myer, meanwhile, came in with an 85.
“I think I have two kids that are hot right now,” Morse said. “Ben shot an 85, which is a sold No. 4 or 5 score, which is what we need. Then he went up to the White Mountain Country Club in 35 mile-per-hour winds and shot a 40, which is really outstanding.”
That 40 on April 29 was his best effort of the season. It was PHS’s second-best score of the day. Only Harpe, who finished first in the five-team event with a 36, was lower.
The coach believes the Longhorns are putting it all together. “I think we’re peaking at the right time and hopefully we will do well (at state),” he said.
Clayton White will miss the state tournament after breaking two bones in his foot in a motorcycle accident.
That is part of the reason that Morse promoted three junior varsity kids up to compete with the varsity golfers the rest of the season. That trio includes junior Austin Moss, sophomore Hunter Harrison and freshman Matthew Myer. Harrison fired a 39 for the JV team at the White Mountain CC on April 29.
“We’re keeping them up with the varsity five as we go to state just to let them have the extra experience and see how they might step up between now and state,” Morse said.