Perhaps no other boys’ golf team ever felt as good about taking fourth place at the Class 4A state championships as the Palmer Ridge Bears did in early October.
It wasn’t just about the present. It was about the future.
And coach Gary Long found himself in the middle of it all.
Long, who has been at the helm for three years, guided the Bears to the program’s best state finish, thanks to the play of sophomores Trey Jones, Elijah Harp and Lance Phillips and junior Drew Laake. They were just 12 strokes behind champion Montrose.
Long is The Gazette Boys’ Golf Coach of the Year. No other area team finished higher than Palmer Ridge at state this season. And not other many teams than the Bears will return all of their state qualifiers next year.
“That experience was very valuable for them,” Long said. “It was good to see they had the mentality to go out and do some things.”
Jones shot a 3-over-par 75 on the final day of the state tourney at Raccoon Creek Golf Course in Littleton to finish tied for 11th in the individual standings. Harp followed up that performance by taking 20th, as Phillips and Laake placed 31st and 47th, respectively.
Long said his golfers’ inexperience to the setting never truly showed. He remembers when Jones had a bad front nine, shooting three-over par. The two talked, and Long told the sophomore golfer not to get down himself.
“You had a bad hole, even the pros have bad holes,” Long said to Jones. “It’s what you do after the bad hole.”
As soon as his team secured the fourth-place finish, Jones suspected Palmer Ridge could have a bright future during the next season or two.
“Our goal is definitely winning state next year,” he told The Gazette in October.