Summit High Tigers take to the links
It ain’t easy playing high school golf in the Rocky Mountains.
Sure, the air is thinner and the ball carries farther, but the courses are demanding, the season is short and golf just doesn’t have the same appeal as bigger, badder, more adrenaline-packed sports. Add snowbound distractions to the mix — skiing and snowboarding in Summit County begins just a month after the end of golf season — and the Summit High School team is fighting an uphill battle before the first tournament. It’s rarely packed the punch of a deep, well-funded Front Range team like Regis Jesuit, or even Western Slope heavyweights like Grand Junction.
“We’ve never been the big guns,” head coach Gary Sorensen told me after practice before the Keystone Invitational, Summit’s home tournament at The Ranch course in Keystone. “Part of that is the short season. No one on the Divide is perennially strong, just because that season can be so short. And, with a complicated, technical sport like golf, you just don’t have much time to focus with so many other sports grabbing your attention.”
Still, Sorensen has high hopes for his top-three players: Senior Ethan Moroco and juniors Graham Gaspard and Keegan Cancelosi. All three consistently lowered their scores through the first four tournaments of the season, leading to a season-best finish at the Rifle Creek tournament on Aug. 27. The team placed second out of six teams, with Cancelosi placing fourth after shooting 82, just four strokes away from third-place finisher Wyatt Carter of Rifle.
The team stumbled at the next tournament in Aspen on Sept. 2, placing fifth out of eight teams. None of the Tigers top three shot better than 92 — a season high for the varsity leaders.
But, as if to prove the mountain-town rule, Summit still shot better in Aspen than Eagle Valley and Vail Mountain School. The Aspen team took first on its home course, but only after completely missing the top three just a week earlier in Rifle.
Again, Sorensen says mountain teams have a disadvantage from the start.
“The teams that are good come in with players,” Sorensen said. “The best players have a dad who plays, plus a golf pro in the summer and maybe another in the season. You just don’t have enough time to make a golfer. This sport is just so technical that it doesn’t work out well.
Home in the hills
Since taking over in 2008, Sorensen has seen a handful of all-star players come through the golf program, most notably Dillon Mitchell, who won the 2011 Keystone Invitational as a junior with a score of 69.
The team garners plenty of interest every season — tryouts in early August drew 22 players — but, as a relatively small mountain school, Summit just doesn’t have the depth to build a consistently competitive team.
It’s not as though Summit can’t and won’t produce high-level players, Sorensen says. Like golf itself, crafting a team is a numbers game: Before coming to Colorado, he coached for a school in Wisconsin with 2,200 students, nearly triple the size of SHS. And he has a good crew to work with: Of the top-three, only Moroco graduates at the end of the year. Cancelosi and Gaspard will return next season as seniors, while up-and-coming fourth player Tyler Horii is currently a sophomore.
While the team might struggle to find a rhythm, Sorensen says few things are better than simply being at The Ranch in summer and fall. The course is gorgeous — one of many reasons other, more kinetic outdoor sports are so appealing in the High Country — and the team enjoys support from Keystone PGA pro Jim Banks.
“It’s important for young players to play competitive golf with their peers and against other high school teams for many reasons,” Banks said. “Learning to play at this level requires a solid time commitment in order to develop not only the physical but the mental skills to have consistency in their swing, shot execution, stay focused and play well.”
After the Keystone Invitational, the team is far past the halfway point of the season. Just one regular tournament remains in Vail on Sept. 15, followed by the regional tournament at Haymaker Golf Course in Frisco on Sept. 21.
Sorensen knows the final schedule is rough, but, then again, so is golf.
“Golf is unlike any other sport,” he said. “In this game, you have to play your foul balls. It’s always different.”
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