Summit Tigers golf team’s play peaks heading into Keystone Ranch Invitational |

Summit Tigers golf team’s play peaks heading into Keystone Ranch Invitational

The Summit High golf team practices at Keystone Ranch Golf Course in Keystone on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
Liz Copan /

KEYSTONE – Thursday seems like ideal timing for the Summit High golf team to play its only home tournament of the season. The Tigers are riding high on top individual and team performances at recent tournaments.

Tigers coach Gary Sorenson said heading into this season he knew junior Ryley Cibula was ready for a strong showing after his 30th-place finish at last year’s state tournament. Sorenson describes Cibula as a youngster who lives and breathes golf, the kind of golfer who may be late to supper at his home down the road because he’s getting some final chips in around the green after dark.

True to form and expectations, Cibula has led the way for Summit this season, posting the lowest Tiger score at six of seven tournaments to this point. Cibula’s run began with an 85 at Battlement Mesa on Aug. 9, where the Tigers placed fourth of 10 teams with a three-player score of 259. Cibula then shot his lowest round of the season at the Bookcliff Tournament at Grand Junction later in August, as Cibula’s 75 – including two birdies and 10 pars – placed him in a tie for fifth in the tournament’s individual competition.

After shooting a couple of scores in the 80s at Rifle Creek and Aspen golf clubs as August turned to September, Cibula has shot three consecutive rounds in the 70s leading into Thursday’s Keystone Ranch Invitational (play begins at 10 a.m.). The tournament, annually played the Thursday before regionals, will feature top teams from the High Country and the Denver area.

On Tuesday, at Vail Mountain School’s 16-team tournament at Vail Golf Club, Cibula showed on his best day he can score with the area’s best. Cibula, who is averaging an 18-hole score of 80 strokes on the season, made every fairway except two. His one birdie and 11 pars brought him to a tie for the tournament championship despite the fact that he was three-over through three holes.

Cibula credits his off-season focus on the mental aspect of golf for his ability to steady his play Tuesday en route to his first first-place finish of his high school career.

“My swing has gotten better since last year, I’m consistently shooting in the mid-to-high 70s, as opposed to once in a while,” Cibula said at practice at Keystone Ranch on Wednesday afternoon. “Just knowing I can shoot that low number — it’s about just telling yourself you can, knowing what you can do, what shots you can hit, telling yourself that you can make this putt. Not that you have to, but you can.”

That type of psychological approach was necessary on Tuesday, particularly on Vail Golf Club’s 14th hole. After sailing his tee shot onto a neighboring green, Cibula focused on the fact that he could hit an ideal enough shot through a gap in the trees to recover for a bogey. He did just that, ending with a strong 77 on a course known for its narrow fairways.

Thursday at Keystone Ranch, Cibula expects a score of 78 or lower will put him in contention at the top of the leaderboard at a course he said he knows “inside and out.” That includes home-course advantages on the Ranch course’s steep back 9 where golf balls roll more than many expect. At his best, Cibula over the summer shot an 18-hole score of 73 at the Ranch course, which he said he played at least nine holes more than 70 times this season.

Another Tiger familiar with the Ranch course is freshman Jackson True. The newcomer True, who grew up playing the Ranch course, is averaging a 92.4. That includes his team-best fifth-place score of 84 at Rifle Creek, which led Summit to a tie for second place.

During Thursday’s tournament, four Tigers golfers will shoot for the team’s top-three scores. Along with True and Cibula, sophomore Ricky Ahlquist figures to be one of Summit’s top golfers. On the season, Ahlquist possesses the team’s second-lowest 18-hole average of 88.3. The Tigers have also received strong seasons from sophomore Everett Gillett (92.5) and sophomore Zach Carleton (94).

These varsity golfers came together for Summit’s best tournament of the season at the Dos Rios at Gunnison on Sept. 11. Both Ahlquist (83) and True (87) broke 90 which, combined with Cibula’s 79, earned the Tigers’ their lowest 3-player team score of the season, a 249.

With Regionals a week away, Cibula said he hopes to play well enough to not only qualify for next month’s state tournament (Oct. 7-8) again, but to finish in the top-10 as well. He said that would likely mean needing to shoot 78 or lower over the state tournament’s two days. With three sub-78 scores already this season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

But first up is Keystone Ranch on Thursday. However the Tigers fare, Sorenson just hopes his guys do two things: Remain coachable and enjoy their day out their on the course.

“One of the things that really makes me feel worth something around these guys is when they are smiling when they are playing,” Sorenson said. “Not just when you hit the best shots you ever hit, but when you hit the less-than-perfect ones and you are still out here working at it and getting better. Even though every shot isn’t better, it’s not a game of ‘perfect.’ It’s a game of ‘who recovers the best from their last mistake.’”

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