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High School Golf: 3 Warriors, 5 area golfers look for state glory

Alix Peterson of Staples-Motley studies a putt during the Cardinal Invite at Cragun's Legacy Courses. Kelly Humphrey Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd will be three players short Tuesday, June 12, when the Class 3A state tournament is played at Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids.

The Warriors were close to breaking the seal on a state tournament berth by finishing second to Alexandria for the Section 8-3A championship. Brainerd fell two strokes short. Being that close, however, meant the Warriors were able to send three individuals to state in Gavin Metz, Jack Evans and Erik Stoxen.

Metz shot 73-77 for a second-place 150 in the Section 8-3A tournament at Rich Spring to advance to his third state tournament.

Last year at state, Metz motored around Bunker Hills for rounds of 75-71 to tie for seventh with his 146. As a freshman, he finished 77th with a 167.

While a 70-position improvement is impossible, Metz has his sights set on another high finish.

"He's just been so steady and seems to have it all kind of figured out right now, at least how to play really close to par," Warriors head coach Brian Wallace said. "He's just got to maybe take it to another level if he wants to see a higher result at the state tournament, but I think he's definitely capable and ready to make that happen this year."

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State tournament

  • When: Tuesday-Wednesday, June 12-13
  • Class 3A: Brainerd's Jack Evans, Gavin Metz, Erik Stoxen at Bunker Hills Golf Club, Coon Rapids
  • Class 2A: Staples-Motley's Beck Erholtz, Alix Peterson at Ridges at Sand Creek, Jordan
  • Class 1A: Pine River-Backus' Brady Raph, Anna Felthous, Bella Netland at Pebble Creek Golf Club, Becker

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Metz's fourth state round will begin at 1:21 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, off the West Course.

"The course sets up pretty nicely for a right-hander with a draw-natural flight path," Wallace said. "It's pretty fair when it comes to golf in general. It's not tricky. It's pretty straight-forward golf. You get what you see and he's just really good on a course like that. He's just so steady on the mental side of things so it just sets up really well for him."

Evans and Stoxen tied for fourth in the section with matching 154s. Evans opened with a 78 and battled back to a 76 to return to state after a two-year absence. The senior finished tied for 67th in his only state appearance in 2015 as a freshman. He fired rounds of 82-84 for a 166.

"I think all of the pressure that he's put on himself to return to the state tournament had an effect on him, but now that he's finally there, I think he'll be more relaxed once he starts playing, "Wallace said. "I think he'll be more relaxed at the state tournament than he was at the section tournament. I think he has something to prove to himself and getting back there will give him enough confidence to just go out and play."

His long-awaited return will begin at 1:12pm on the West Course.

"Jack's length is really going to play well for him," Wallace said. "He's going to be able to take advantage of some of those longer par 4s and get himself into position where he's hitting a higher-lofted club into those greens than a lot of other kids will be.

"His length with his irons as well, not just his length off the tee, will play a big advantage for him."

Stoxen shot 76-78 for his 154 and will be playing in his first state tournament. Stoxen enjoyed a breakout season by winning the Central Lakes Conference individual title while leading Brainerd to the team title.

"I've watched him this year just kind of gain that self-confidence over where he was last year," Wallace said. "He really has all the pieces fit together right now. He's putting great. He is striking the ball off the tee amazingly well and he's really good with his hands around the greens. It will be really fun to see how he plays that course. He's played it before, but not in a tournament situation."

Stoxen will be the first Warrior to tee off at 1:03 p.m. on the West Course. This is the biggest caravan of golfers Wallace has had at one time at state and he believes that will help Stoxen.

"That will be huge for him," Wallace said. "They're going to play a practice round together on Monday, June 11. They are paired together for that practice round. I just think the camaraderie and the knowledge of the course that those two guys have and will be able to give him will be huge for Erik.

"I think it will be fun to watch the dynamics between the three of them because they know each other's games and they know each other's strengths that will really help Erik when it comes to the first round on Tuesday."

Class 2A

Beck Erholtz was one spot away from advancing to the Class 2A state tournament as an eighth-grader last year.

He left little doubt he was going this year.

The Staples-Motley Cardinals freshman opened the Section 6-2A tournament with an opening-round 74 and followed with a 78 to win the individual title by two strokes.

The three-year varsity veteran will start his first state tournament at 1:21 p.m. on the front nine of the Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.

"I think it has a lot of similarities of Blackberry," Cardinals head coach Glen Hasselberg said of the Ridges. "It's the same architect in Joel Goldstrand. It brings in an element of water hazards and creeks and things like that. Some holes are risks. Some holes are rewards.

"I'd like to say he'll handle the situation well, but funny things happen. You get in front of the big round and sometimes you react differently. But I think he'll be up for it."

Erholtz had confidence going into the section tournament after winning the presection event earlier this year. The hope is Erholtz finds early confidence at state to build off of.

"The fact that he had success earlier at Blackberry in terms of winning the presection so he was pretty focused on last year's result to this year," Hasselberg said.

Alix Peterson has been the model of consistency the last few weeks and continued that with matching rounds of 87 to place third in the Section 6-2A tournament with a two-day 174.

That placed Peterson in her first Class 2A state tournament, which for the sophomore will begin at 8:42 a.m. Tuesday, June 12, on the back nine.

Hasselberg said Peterson's success will be tied to her short game.

"She strikes the ball well and is very strong and is capable of hitting the ball out there," he said. "It's going to come down to what she does on or around the greens. If there is any hitch in her getup, it would be her putting. If we can keep that putt count down, I anticipate she'll do just fine.

"She's starting to mature in terms of her playing ability. She's realizing she's capable of playing with some of those top players."

Class 1A

Pine River-Backus sophomore Brady Raph will begin his third state tournament 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, on the White Nine of Pebble Creek Golf Course in Becker.

The heady Tiger is coming off a blowout performance at the Section 6-1A tournament at Lakeside Golf Course in Perham. Raph led wire-to-wire thanks to an opening 69 followed by a 74 for a two-day 143 that helped him capture the section individual title by 15 strokes.

"He just has a good head on his shoulders for this," Tigers head boys golf coach Steve Heslop said. "We talked (June 6) and he's already figured out which clubs he can use on which holes. He's got the course played in his head already.

"Obviously, things have to fall into place and the wind needs to be coming in the right direction, but that course, the conditions are probably set up similar to Golden Eagle in Fifty Lakes and Brady works at Golden Eagle."

Because of his length, the early game plan is to use driver on just two holes. Raph fired rounds of 87-78 for a 16th-place 165 his freshman year at state. During his eighth-grade season, Raph tied for 39th with rounds of 82 and 89.

"If everything works out, I would just like him walking away with a medal around his neck," said Heslop. "It doesn't have to be first, just a medal. His personal goal is to be in the top five. It's doable.

"Shoot, he has the talent to win it, but to win it takes luck. You have to get the right bounce at the right time. The putt has to drop or break just right. There are just so many things that can go wrong if you're only giving yourself the mindset of 'I'm going to win it or nothing.'"

On the girls side, Anna Felthous and Bella Netland are the second and third Pine River-Backus Tigers girls ever to compete in the state tournament, Tiger girls head coach Mark Gonnion said.

"This is their first state tournament so there will be some nerves so we're setting our goals accordingly," Gonnion said. "We're hoping the girls can have a good experience for their first time out. If we could have either of the girls finish in the top half of the field, that would be good for them.

"There are other little personal goals that we've throw in there for the girls, but the main thing is they've been playing and improving every time out and I'd like to see the girls continue that forward trend."

Felthous, who is playing in just her second year of competitive golf, will tee off first at 8:24 a.m. Tuesday, June 12, on the Red Nine. The sophomore will be followed one group back by Netland, who is also a sophomore.

"I think the course sets up pretty good for their games," Gonnion said. "We've been playing Deacon's and other courses around here where there is a lot of spots where you can't hit the ball. I think Pebble Creek there is more room there. There are places you can hit the ball and still maintain your forward progress. I think the course will be favorable to them in that way to them."

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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