COLORADO SPRINGS — It turns out that missing the green on the par-3 17th hole was a good thing for Fossil Ridge's Dillon Stewart.
The senior's ball sat in the first cut of the fringe, but in a spot where he was unable to mark it and clean it before he attempted his birdie putt. Mountain Range's Connor Jones had just made bogey so Stewart, unknowingly, was tied for the lead at the Class 5A boys state golf tournament.
He made the birdie putt thanks to a spot of mud on the ball. He would go on to shoot a five-under-par-66 on Tuesday to claim the very championship that slipped through his fingers a year ago.
"I played it right, I putted it and it was on line and dying off," Stewart said. "But because it was off the green and on the fringe there was a little mud on my ball. It might’ve lipped in, but when it hit that mud it kicked right and made it in that left edge.”
That putt moved him to 4-under on his round and 3-under for the tournament. To make a good situation even better, as Owen Cornmesser (77), Charlie Wang (78) and Colin Cazier (82) had their scores become official, Fossil Ridge had taken over the team lead as well.
With each shot counting for both Stewart and the Sabercats, co-head coaches Andy Stevens and Jamie Meneffee couldn't decide which aspect of the day was more stressful.
“We were monitoring both closely," Steven said. "It was nerve-racking to watch them both. I don’t know if one is better than the other. We were just proud of our boys today. We didn’t have our best stuff yesterday across the board. But today they all came to play and Dillon on the back nine turned on the afterburners.”
With the birdie in hand at 17, Stewart sat in the lead and made his way to the tee box at the 18th hole. The tees had been moved up for the final round, making the green getable for a bomber like Stewart. With the group ahead of him finishing up on the green, Stewart waited to hit for what felt like an eternity.
“Waiting on that tee box on 18 felt like four hours," he said. "I just wanted to hit it rather than wait for the drama to build up.”
With time to study the layout of the hole and weigh his options his mind never really drifted from the idea of attacking the green and sewing up a championship for himself and a championship for his team.
“We knew if Dillon had anywhere near his best stuff today he could propel the team," Menefee said. "The rest of the team was good enough. They didn’t have to play great, if they could play just play good, Dillon was great enough, not to carry us, but to propel us.”
From the second he put the tee in the ground on 18, there was no laying up.
“Not really," Stewart said. "I hit 6-iron on 17 and I went 250 yards. The adrenaline was in and I felt really good with my swing so I just needed tempo. I wasn’t really worried about the water. I did kick in the toe just a touch because I knew that bunker was there and that’s not a bad place to be.”
A magnificent sand out put his birdie putt within two feet of the hole. From there, it was a formality to drain it and wait for the scores to become official.
Stewart, a commit to Oklahoma State, had the lead after the first day of the 2017 tournament, but eventually watched Eaglecrest's Davis Bryant claim the title.
Tuesday, he redeemed himself and redeemed past Fossil Ridge teams had chances to win team titles.
"This year we approached it with a little more of a relaxed attitude," Stevens said. "Maybe that helped us. We have two sophomores playing in their first state tournament ever. Expectations I think were lower than they’ve been in the past.”
But the results were better. And now, for the first time in school history, the Sabercats can call themselves boys golf state champions.