Keeping the focus on the short game

As long games get bigger, it's the chips and putts that make the difference

Heritage junior Nick Leibold warms up on the putting green before a Continental League tournament at South Suburban Golf Course.
Junior Reese Leiker, Heritage's No. 1 player, warms up with his irons prior to a Continental League tournament at South Suburban Golf Course.
Jim Benton
Arthur Zabronsky, of Douglas County High School, tees off during a Continental League tournament at South Suburban Golf Course last week.
Jim Benton
Douglas County's Nick Smith is a returning state golf tournament qualifier for the Huskies.
Legend's Phillip Nelson works on his short game on the practice green.
Mountain Vista's Chris Raap practices a chip shot prior to a Continental League meet at South Suburban Golf Course.
From left, ThunderRidge senior golfers Trevor Crockett, Trevor McCord and Jack Matchinskiy, are expected to be key players on the Grizzlies' roster this fall.
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There are numerous examples of talented high school golfers coming up short of expectations.

And, many times that's because of their lack of focus on their short game, which is vital to the scores scribbled on the scorecard.

Boys are hitting longer, thanks in part to better equipment and golf balls, so the long game is strong. However, the short game can't be ignored. Approach shots, chips and putts are also critical to have scores good enough to be posted on the leaderboard.

“Most young players discount the value of the short game,” said ThunderRidge coach Jim McCord. “They love to hit the range and pound the ball. However, the best golfers have a strong short game.”

Highlands Ranch coach James Barker lectures to his players about the importance of the short game.

“I hammer them on it,” explained Barker. “The bad thing is our season is so short. I only get to force them to work on their short games properly for two months. Even the best players on the planet miss about 25 percent of their greens. The best golfers on the planet hit 13 or 14 greens a round. So they are having to get up and down four or five times a round.

“Our kids are missing seven or eight greens a round and getting up and down maybe a third of the time. If we get smarter and pick a high percentage shot around the green, maybe we can save a couple shots a round.”

Barker's team spends an hour putting during practice sessions, another hour chipping, pitching and hitting bunker shots before hitting some balls.

“Boys just want to hit balls,” added Barker. “They don't understand their score is attached to putting and chipping and hitting bunker shots. You can hit a bad drive and still make a birdie. You can miss a green and still make a par. But if you mess up a chip or bunker shot or a putt, those scores go on your scorecard. There's no recovering from a messed up short shot or putt.”

Arapahoe coach Harry Buckner claims putting is part of the game that can't be overemphasized.

“Half your strokes in a round are made with your putter,” he said. “That's how important your short game is. If you have 36 putts and 36 shots with other clubs and that's par 72. More than half your shots are from 100 yards in. There's an old adage in golf that you drive for show and putt for dough.”

Jason Preeo, coach of defending Class 4A state champion Valor Christian, stresses the value of the short game.

“The biggest thing that separates players are chips and putts when they miss the green,” said Preeo.

Golf teams at a glance:

Arapahoe

Coach: Harry Buckner

2013 Highlights: The Warriors, led by senior Sam Marley, wound up ninth in the Class 5A state tournament.

Top Returning Players: David Packer, Jr.; Austin Lienemann, Sr.; Jonathan Bailey, Jr.; Henry Schaefer, Jr. Tyler Martinez, Jr.; Turner Johnson, Soph.; Joey Buckley, Jr.; Cory Giancaterino, Jr.; Robby Walker, Soph.

2014 Outlook: Packer is the lone returning Warrior who played in last season’s state tournament. “We have a bunch of juniors,” said Buckner. “Creek is (likely) going to win the league again. We’re hoping we can finish second. Grandview and Cherokee Trail will be our big competition.’’

Castle View

Coach: Perry Villanueba

2013 Highlights: The Sabercats played their best golf late in the season and just missed having a couple players qualify for the state tournament.

Top Returning Players: Casey Chipman, Jr.; Andrew Callin, Sr.

2014 Outlook: Chipman was the team’s No. 1 player last season and is part of a youthful squad this season. Dillon Baker and Reese Taylor are promising freshman that will also be competing. “The Sabercats should be in good shape for the next several years,” said Villanueba.

Chaparral

Coach: Mark Stevens

2013 Highlights: The Wolverines didn’t qualify the team or any individuals for the Class 5A state tournament.

Top Returning Players: Josh Yovich, Sr.; Kevin Miller, Sr.; John Maruyama, Sr.; Blake Rich, Sr.; Mike Karas, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Stevens assumes the head coaching duties and will have a senior-laden team bolstered by newcomers, senior Quinten Matteson and junior Jacob Russell. “Our goal is to learn from the experience of competing in the extremely talented Continental League to up our game to qualify a team for state,” said Stevens.

Douglas County

Coach: Jeff Riley

2013 Highlights: The Huskies played up their potential and finished fifth in the Continental League, qualifying for the state tournament as a team (three players made it individually). The team played its best round of the season on the first day of the state tourney, but faltered during the second round and finished back in the pack.

Top Returning Players: Nick Smith, Sr.; Arthur Zabronsky, Sr.

2014 Outlook: Former state individual champion Kyler Dunkle has graduated and will be playing at Colorado State so Smith and Zabronsky will try to create a new identity for Douglas County. Smith was a state qualifier a year ago.

“As always the team will hope to build momentum and play their best golf starting the second week in September when regionals roll around,” said Riley. “The regional re-alignment has helped eliminate some imbalance but the season really still revolves around the one-day regional tournament.”

Heritage

Coach: Nicki Poulos

2013 Highlights: The Eagles, led by senior Hunter Lee, finished second in the Continental League and were the runners-up in the Northern Regional at Broadlands Golf Club. Heritage was fifth in the Class 5A state tournament.

Top Returning Players: Nick Leibold, Jr.; Reese Leiker, Jr.

2014 Outlook: The Eagles will be inexperienced with only two varsity players returning. Poulos is anxious to see who steps up to fill the open spots on the team. “Many of our players competed over the summer and worked really hard on their games,” said Poulos.

Highlands Ranch

Coach: James Barker

2013 Highlights: The Falcons were young and inexperienced but still managed to finish fifth in the Continental League. The three freshmen and one sophomore on the 2013 team played well. Junior Tyler Zang was an all-league player. Ryan Pearson and Zang finished in the top 35 at the Class 5A state meet.

Top Returning Players: Tyler Zang, Jr.; Ryan Pearson, Soph.; Kyle Pearson, Soph.; Charlie Schneider, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Freshman Jack Crisp will join four returning players and the Falcons should be a team to contend with this season. Kyle Pearson opened the season with a 70 in the league’s first tourney at South Suburban as the Falcons finished first, edging five-time state champion Regis Jesuit.

“We’re going to be pretty strong,” said Barker. “We’re going to line up with a freshman, three sophomores and a junior. I think we’re going to possibly be a top five team in the state. If you finish in the top five of 5A you are pretty sound. All these kids have been in the low 70s in tournaments this summer and a few have been in the 60s.”

Legend

Coach: Jay Nelson

2013 Highlights: The Titans finished in the lower echelon of the Continental League standings.

Top Returning Players: Luke Auten, Sr.; Philip Nelson, Jr.;  Zach Nelson, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Auten and Nelson are experienced players and juniors Max Hass, Wyatt Derman and sophomore Jared Sitzman will push the veteran players. “Luke and Philip will lead the Titans this season with each expected to qualify for this year’s state tournament,” said Nelson.

Littleton

Coach: Kevin Burdick

2013 Highlights: Inconsistency spoiled the Lions play against Continental League opposition but joining the Class 4A Jeffco League this season could be a big boost.

Top Returning Players: Jacob Fuchs, Sr.; Jake Metzmaker, Sr.; Zach Huffer, Sr.; Scott Robb, Jr.; Sam Schroer, Jr.; Hil Abbott, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Burdick is hoping greater consistency will provide a chance to qualify some golfers for the Class 4A State Tournament. “I am pleased that most of the Jeffco tournaments are on public golf courses providing access to all players,” said Burdick. “Many of the tournaments in the Continental League were at country clubs, meaning my kids couldn’t play a practice round. In fact, we often played these courses completely ‘blind.’”

Lutheran

Coach: John Zilm

2013 Highlights: The Lions won the final four Metro League tournaments and captured the league title. Led by seniors Hayden Nicholaides and Payton DeVencenty, Lutheran finished second in the Class 3A state tournament.

Top Returning Players: Nathan Vaughn, Sr.; Justin Vaughn, Soph.

2014 Outlook: Vaughn will be seeking to make his fourth consecutive state tournament appearance and will be the featured player on a young Lions team. “It will be difficult to repeat the success of 2013 but a young and talented group could surprise in a competitive Metro League,” said Zilm.

Mountain Vista

Coach: Tim Taylor

2013 Highlights: Austin Hardman and Chris Raap qualified for the Class 5A state tournament. Hardman tied for 23rd and Raap tied for 35th out of 84 players.

Top Returning Players: Austin Hardman, Jr.; Chris Raap, Soph.; Nolan Cox, Sr.

2014 Outlook: With Hardman and Raap returning after good showings last season, the Golden Eagles have high hopes to make some noise this season. “The experience of our two players who qualified for state coupled with the hard off-season work by Nolan Cox and others may see Mountain Vista place a team in the 5A state tournament for the first time in a few years,” said Taylor.

ThunderRidge

Coach: Jim McCord

2013 Highlights: Jack Matchinski was the leading Grizzly, finishing 63rd in the Class 5A state tournament.

Top Returning Players: Trevor Crockett, Sr.; Trevor McCord, Sr.; Jack Matchinski, Sr.

2014 Outlook: With the senior leadership of Crockett, McCord and Matchinski, the Grizzlies have a good chance to be a factor in the league standings. “Hopefully the experience and leadership of these players will help our team have another successful and enjoyable season,” said McCord.

Valor Christian

Coach: Jason Preeo

2013 Highlights: The Eagles, led by Jake Staiano and Ross Macdonald who were fourth and seventh respectively, won the Class 4A state championship at Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen. Staiano’s 71 was the best score on the second day of the tournament and he finished with a 148 two-day total. Macdonald wound up with a total of 152 after two days.

Top Returning Players: Ross Macdonald, Sr.; Jake Staiano, Sr.; Coby Welch, Jr.; Pierce Aichinger, Sr.

2014 Outlook: The Eagles have won four of the past five Class 4A state championships and lost in a playoff in 2012 or it could have been five straight titles. Valor appears strong again with MacDonald, Staiano and Welch leading the way, which should be enough to offset the graduation loss of Josh Seiple. “This is probably our deepest team by far,” said Preeo. “There’s a good chance it could be our best.”

Note: All above information in the team capsules was gleaned from responses to a survey that was sent to all south metro area schools