US AIR FORCE ACADEMY — The Front Range was very kind to Montrose's Micah Stangebye last fall. The then-junior was on point at the Club at Flying Horse last November as he claimed the Class 4A boys golf title.
He'll have a chance to defend his title this fall and preparation is very much underway. Stangebye is one of several returning and recently graduated golfers playing in the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado's Junior PGA Championship at Eisenhower Golf Club on the grounds of the Air Force Academy.
It's just the next tournament of a heavy schedule that Stangebye will battle through as he heads into the school season next fall.
"It's busy," he said. "I haven't been home in two weeks and that's obviously a struggle living back in Montrose. All these tournaments are over on this Front Range. I just have to get through it and get some sleep. I also just need to keep my game going and not focus on shooting a certain score this summer. I just have to keep placing and keep grinding and get my swing going."
The Colorado Junior PGA is the first of four designated majors on the JGAC Tour each summer. A year ago it was Eaglecrest alum Davis Bryant and Holy Family's Hailey Schalk who came away with the respective championships.
Like Stangebye, Davis was coming off a state title win but he wasn't trying to get ready to defend that title, he was on his way to Fort Collins to begin his college golf career with Colorado State.
The good news for Stangebye is that this tournament is going to make him more battle tested. He's playing in a field that consists last year's 5A champion (Fossil Ridge's Dillon Stewart) and the 3A runner-up (Aspen's Jack Hughes).
There is no classification separation with the field. This is simply the best golfers in the state going at it. Even if Stangebye doesn't finish high on the leaderboard, he's still going to feel the benefit of this tournament when the fall season gets rolling in August.
"Knowing all these guys that have graduated are playing college golf and competing with them pushes me to go further," Stangebye said. "They'll be gone next year, but playing with them is always good."
It's a benefit to those recent graduates as well. Many in the field will be turning their attention to the college game this fall. Whether it's someone like Stewart heading to Oklahoma State or someone like Liberty's Brandon Bervig heading to UCCS, the JGAC Tour has become a tool to make all high school-level golfers in Colorado better players.
"They're amazing," Bervig said. "They play us at longer distances to prepare us for college. They have tough setups, tough greens and a lot of these pins were tough today."
For players like Bervig or Stewart, a tougher setup means they'll be better prepared for the next level in the fall. For a player like Stangebye, these tournaments can make the difference when it comes to defending a state championship.
Boys: Valor alum Jake Welch jumps out to lead
It was a tale of two nines for recent Valor graduate Jake Welch. He teed off on 10 at Eisenhower's Blue Course and a double-bogey on No. 15 contributed to his 38 on that side.
He recovered nicely after making the turn as he made four birdies - including three in his last four holes - to take the Day 1 lead with a 2-under-par 70.
Hughes and recent Mead graduate TJ Shehee finished tied for second as they each shot 72.
Stewart hit a bumpy stretch on his back nine to finish with a 75.
Girls: Loveland's Lauren Lehigh tied for Day 1 lead
Lauren Lehigh is continuing where she left off at the 5A girls golf tournament this spring. The only difference is after the first day, she has a three-way share of the lead at 5-over.
Broomfield's Meghan Vogt and Cherry Creek's Kaylee Chen are also at 5-over on the day.
Caroline Jordaan, this year's 3A champion, is sitting in a tie for seventh at 9-over.