Kings of the course
At the end of the 3A state tournament last year, Park City High School golfer Sam Bell wandered out of the clubhouse at Soldier Hollow and sat on the putting green and cried. George Murphy, last’s years assistant coach and this year’s head coach, came out and told him to remember how he felt, because it wasn’t going to happen again next year.
He was right.
This Thursday, the senior was all smiles as he walked away with the individual medal, shooting a combined score of 146 and helping his team to a runaway victory, scoring a team total of 314, 26 strokes ahead of the second-place Uintah Utes.
"It’s a good feeling right now," Murphy said. "Our focus all year has been to stay in the moment and that’s what they did."
Last year, the state championship came down to how Bell performed on the final hole. The Miners were tied with Uintah and Bell double-bogeyed on the 18th hole. The Miners lost by two. Even though Bell had played well before that hole, he puts the loss on his shoulders.
"I don’t think I had ever cried because of a sport before," he said.
But Bell was the picture of consistency at this year’s state tournament just as he has been all year. He posted the low score at many of the region tournaments and grabbed the region individual title, shooting a 69 at the final match. At Soldier Hollow, it was more of the same. He shot a 73 on the Silver Course on Wednesday and followed it up with another 73 on the Gold Course Thursday.
"I just tried to keep everything in perspective," Bell said. "It’s only a golf round and that’s how I try to think of it."
His relaxed approached worked.
"That was my goal this year — to take it individually and as a team," Bell said. "I worked really hard this summer to do as well as I did."
After the first day, he trailed Uintah’s Stratton Schultz who shot a competition-leading 70, and was motivated to make Thursday a better day.
"I came into today three back from Stratton," Bell said Thursday. "After last year I didn’t want to lose to Uintah again… I realized I had to step it up."
The state championships proved to be just like another Region 10 tournament, with the top contenders in both the individual and team competitions coming out of that region. Park City was ahead by only two strokes with a team total of 300 after day one on the Silver Course. Schultz’s 70 helped the Utes to earn an overall score of 302. Not much farther back was Wasatch in third and Judge Memorial in fourth.
"It made it a lot more comfortable," Bell said. "We had a feeling it would be Park City and Uintah in the end."
Even with familiar faces on the course, Thursday proved to be a challenging day for the entire field. Soldier Hollow’s famous wind came into play in a big way. The golfers had to combat a strong wind on the front nine holes before it finally died down on the back nine. Still, the Miners managed to handle the elements well. Most of the team was either back a stroke or two or even par on the front nine.
Things actually got more challenging on the back. Michael Coopman, who shot a 74 on the Silver Course, struggled with putting and started to add strokes quickly. On the 15th hole, Jack Burrus lost his ball in the brush and then found it, but eight shots and one club broken out of frustration later, he had added four strokes over par to his score.
Even with those struggles, the Miners were still able to dominate. Murphy had challenged the players just to beat everyone in their threesomes and most of them were able to do that.
"I wasn’t worried, but at the end a couple of kids started to struggle," Murphy said. "But I knew Zac [Fear] and Sam were playing well. I just remember last year losing by two and that was a feeling I didn’t want to have again."
The rest of the top individual honors went to Region 10 players, making it almost identical to the regular season. Senior Zac Fear had a successful day, shooting a 77 and tying for second place with Uintah’s Stratton Shultz with a combined score of 151. Fear also fared well at the region tournament at the Glendale Golf Course with a 71 and said that helped his confidence at the state match.
"I practiced a lot and got my swing back before State," Fear said.
Fear was wedged between the struggling Coopman and the consistent Bell, so he was unsure of how the team was doing at the end of day two and just tried to stay focused.
In third place individually was Waterford’s Blake Peterson, who led Region 10 individually for most of the season. Coopman also placed in the top 10 overall.
This is the second state championship for the Miners in the last five years and the first championship for Murphy as a head coach.
"The expectations are high now," said Murphy, laughing.
Murphy also noted that the Miners not only led 3A competition, but 4A as well, who were playing at Soldier Hollow at the same time on opposite courses. Dixie won the 4A state title with a two-day total of 622, eight strokes over the Miners. This is a big deal for Park City, who used to battle with the southern Utah school before Dixie moved up to the 4A division. Bell also led all individual competitors. Dixie’s Willey McCoy won the 4A individual medal with a 149 combined score.
"It says a lot for what these kids did these last few days," Murphy said.
Murphy and Bell embraced on the 18th hole after wrapping up the championship round, and Bell said that Murphy is like a second dad. Also in attendance were countless parents, golf pros and others waiting to see how Bell and the Miners would fare in the final match.
Bell is already looking forward to playing golf in college. He has offers from Seattle University and Utah Valley University. Bell said that his first choice is Seattle, but after this week he may soon have more offers.
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