DENVER – All over Pinehurst Country Club on Tuesday afternoon, everyone was talking about the kid that no one saw coming.
No one seemed capable of readily producing his name without pulling out a phone or glancing to check the clubhouse scoreboard. "The Arapahoe kid that's on fire," they'd call the unknown golfer.
That kid's name: Will Kates.
A sophomore and not even the No. 1 player on his own team, Kates wasn’t counted among a handful of veteran players who entered the Class 5A boys golf state tournament as the clear favorites to win. But Kates quietly positioned himself within one stroke of the Day 1 leader on Monday and on Tuesday’s final day, he absolutely blew everyone away with a 4-under 66 that won him the individual state championship by six strokes.
They didn’t know him before. They do now.
“Winning state was always in the back of my mind as a goal, but it wasn’t an immediate goal,” said Kates, who didn't even qualify for last year's state tournament. “You always want to go in playing like you’re trying to win but this wasn’t something I had planned for myself at the beginning of the season. I just got on a roll.
“I honestly don’t know what to do now. I guess now I just have to come back here next year and try to win it again.”
One of 10 players from eight different schools within three or fewer strokes of Day 1 leader Gavin Hagstrom from Fossil Ridge, Kates opened Tuesday’s finale by birdying two of the first six holes to jump into the lead. His only bogey came on the par-3 12th hole and he responded with three straight birdies on Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to distance himself insurmountably from the field.
All of Class 5A’s best players struggled all tournament long to solve the challenging putting surfaces at Pinehurst. Following the breakout performance of his budding prep career, Kates said winning the state title was the product of his success with the putter.
“I just made some putts, honestly,” Kates said. “All season, if I had been making putts I could have shot a lot lower. It’s a fun game when you’re making putts. This course is hard from tee to green but once you get on the greens, it can get really tricky. We all kind of knew the person who putts the best was going to take the trophy home.”
Highlands Ranch senior Tarek Salem, who tied for sixth at state last season, was tied with Kates for second place to begin Tuesday’s round and held his runner-up position until the end. Salem played a consistent round with 16 pars and just two bogeys for a 2-over 72.
Even he had to tip his cap to Kates.
“I’m happy with the result, honestly,” Salem said. “Everyone’s goal is to win but I was in my zone and playing my game once I got over the nerves after the first couple of holes. When someone shoots a 66, there’s just nothing you can do about it. Will did a great job. Props to him. It was just a great time all around.”
Lakewood’s Ryan Liao, who placed fourth in 2018, was 4-over for the tournament and tied for third with Hagstrom and Fairview’s Will Chadwick. Boulder’s Grant Alqatami – 2-over on Tuesday – was sixth at 5-over and Fairview’s Brett Reamon – 5-over on Tuesday – finished seventh at 6-over.
With three players in the top eight, the Fairview boys claimed the team championship. Arapahoe was second, three strokes behind Fairview and one ahead of third-place Fossil Ridge following a late charge on Day 2.
It was the Fairview Knights’ first team title since 2007 and one that all four seniors who played at state this season have been building towards for several years.
“They’re all seniors, they’re all buddies and they’ve played together forever,” Fairview head coach John Zerwin said. “So it’s really great to see them all stick together and pull it off because we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and they deserve it.”