AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Starting a tournament four strokes behind on the final day is not a high percentage road to success.
It got worse when Westin Pals struggled to start his day at the Class 3A boys golf state tournament, bogeying his opening hole and falling five strokes behind Prospect Ridge Academy’s Walker Franklin.
The wind was gusting fairly heavily as Pals and Franklin began their days, one in each of the final two threesomes to take the course. Both Pals and Franklin struggled a bit with the wind, but Pals was quicker to settle into his groove.
By the end of the ninth hole, Pals was 1-under and Franklin 2-over. Franklin still held the lead, but by only a single stroke. And the winds had calmed down measurably since the gusts of the morning.
Pals’ threesome was playing one ahead of Franklin’s threesome, giving Franklin the advantage — if that is what is was — of knowing what Pals had shot on each hole ahead of him.
The battle see-sawed through multiple lead changes over the final nine holes. Pals sank a long put to birdie 12. Franklin answered with a birdie on 13. Back and forth. Never more than a stroke of difference between the two.
A bogey for Pals on 16 proved costly, however, allowing Franklin to take a one-stroke lead with his birdie on the same hole. Both Pals and Franklin parred 17. Pals parred 18 after a magnificent approach shot tried to settle then caught the slope and rolled several meters away from the pin.
All Franklin had to do to secure the win was par hole 18. Franklin had been parring holes all day long, but the par eluded him on this hole. Franklin three-putted for a bogey, sending the contest into a playoff.
The playoff didn’t last long. Franklin’s tee shot hit the rough, and he could not make up the lost ground. Pals calmly parred the hole and the contest — one which spanned the last ten or so holes with seemingly every spectator in sight checking their phones for updates on scoring with each hole.
Golf was probably a little less stressful before the advent of live scoring.
Pals’ approach to the day reflected the demeanor of one not given to adding pressure to stressful situations.
“I saw the forecast, and it was pretty windy, so I knew I wouldn’t have to go crazy low,” he said. “I didn’t get off to the greatest start. I was two-over through four or five, and I just said, ‘This is my last golf tournament, let’s go out there and see what we can do.’”
But there was still the 18th hole to conquer.
“I thought he [Walker Franklin] was going to make it,” Pals said. “Walker’s been my buddy for years now. I know the feeling of missing a three-footer to win the tournament, but at the end of the day we were tied and went to the playoff.”
Pals was still keeping things calm for the playoff. Surrounded by purple shirts rooting him on, Pals reflected, “Well, I’m color-blind, so everything looks the same.”
Even so, he was making a conscious effort to tune out the crowd.
“When we were on the first tee of the playoff, I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t look behind me; don’t look behind me!’” he said.
And the strategy worked well enough for a win Pals is unlikely ever to forget.
A lot of folks at Lutheran won’t forget it any time soon, either. As it turns out, Lutheran got a twofer on the day. Not only did Pals win individual honors, but a team with three players, a team that made it to state as a team only because those three players qualified as individuals, won a state title. And they won it rather convincingly.
As Pals and Franklin were doing their thing over the last several holes, Pals’ teammates Jackson Lowe and Owen Deas were enjoying solid days, as well. Lowe shot six-over for the day and 11-over for the tournament to place 12th. Owen Deas shot 14-over for the day and 23 over for the tournament to place 36th.
On a day when the wind was messing with player's games all morning long, that was enough for the win. One by one, the teams in the title hunt fell by the wayside or struggled to close the gap, leaving Lutheran alone at the top.
Aside from Lutheran, Holy Family had easily the best day and finished five back of the Lions. But the Tigers never could get close enough to catch Lutheran. Aspen, the co-leader at the end of the first day, finished 13 strokes behind Lutheran.