Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
If the water, sand and pin placements weren’t enough of a test at Dalton Ranch Golf Club, there was the cow trap on the 17th fairway.
Fortunately, the group of about five black bovines that wandered across the Animas River and into the middle of Day 2 of the Durango Invitational were the least of the golfers’ worries Tuesday. Course managers drove the cacophonous cows back into the river with shouts, thrown golf balls and a bona fide cattle dog, just in time for Durango High School boys golfer Cory Gillespie to tee off.
“It was funny,” Gillespie said. “I should’ve done some target practice out there.”
Target practice might have benefited the whole field Tuesday, as everyone struggled to stay out of the traps and hit the pins on what Montezuma–Cortez medalist Jakob Rudosky described as the hardest course the teams will see all season.
Rudosky fared best against the uneven greens and tricky pin placements, which often were at the back of the greens and around the corners - sloped grass on one side, ponds or the river on the other. He won Tuesday’s round with a 76 and the two-day tournament with a total score of 149.
Behind Rudosky, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers rolled to victory with a first-place team score of 238 after Monday’s opening round at Hillcrest Golf Club.
Rudosky was medalist Monday, too, tied with Grand Junction’s Greg Gibson at 73. Gibson finished Tuesday with a 76 and was the overall runner-up at 150.
Troy Dangler of Fruita Monument was third with a 79 on Tuesday and a 153 overall; Hayden Plewe fourth at 79 and 155; and Donny Kinnamen fifth at 78 and 156.
Gillespie finished sixth with a 79 on Tuesday and a 156 at the Demons’ home tournament.
Fruita Monument finished second behind Montezuma-Cortez at 476; Grand Junction and Montrose tied for third with 478s; Durango was fifth with a 489; and Grand Junction Central finished with a 515.
Still, after sweeping the individual field, Rudosky said Dalton Ranch presented the greatest challenge of the tournament.
“The pin placements were in some of the hardest spots I’ve seen all year,” he said.
“If you miss the green, you end up in hazards.”
Nobody figured that out better than Gibson, who was tied with Rudosky at 1-over par until the 13th hole. There, Gibson ran into trouble with the water trap on the way to the green before stumbling over his putts for a quadruple bogey.
Rudosky also bogeyed the hole.
“They had some really nasty pin placements: up on ridges, down in holes,” Gibson said.
With the tournament pressure building and only a handful of holes left to play, it would’ve been easy for Gibson to throw in the ball towel. Instead, it all came down to the last shots on the 18th green, as Rudosky missed some easy puts and Gibson hit some hard ones – including a nearly 30-foot birdie putt on the 15th.
“That was huge, getting some confidence back,” Gibson said.
“I just decided to put my head down and battle back.”
The thorny course stayed thorny all the way through under cloudy and breezy afternoon skies. Rudosky’s second shot on the 18th hole found its way into the sand rimming the green, while Gibson played right on.
With a putt for par, Gibson could’ve tied Rudosky, who double bogeyed after an off-target bogey putt, but he, too, rimmed the pin and had to settle for a bogey and a 5-over 77, one back from Rudosky’s medalist tally.
“It was a battle from the first hole to the last,” Rudosky said.
Gillespie had a shot at the leaders, too, even after shooting 8-over par on the front nine. He turned his game around for a 1-under on the back nine after starting the day four shots back.
The freshman had two chances for eagles and dropped three birdies on the day for a 79. He said he played particularly well on the par-3 holes.
“(Gillespie) started out a little sluggish, but he held it together,” DHS golf coach Kirk Rawles said. “After a tough start, to reel it back in, that’s pretty impressive.”
The rest of the Demons didn’t rise to the occasion quite as well as Gillespie.
Bo Ward, who finished Monday one shot behind Gillespie with a 78, shot an 87 on Tuesday to finish at 165.
Cameron Barnhardt, who shot an 80 on Monday, was next with an 88 for a 169.
Durango junior varsity golfer Liam Miller also shot an 88 on Tuesday to finish at 173.
Trevor Bogus, who was in the varsity hunt after his 80 on Monday, ended with a 90 and 170 total.
Eric Walker wrapped up the Demons’ varsity play with a Dalton Ranch 98 for a 178 overall.
“It was a tough day, I think, for everyone out there,” Rawles said. “This is as tough as Dalton could play.”
With the regional meet next week, Rawles said the tournament was a good test for his young squad before it plays Cortez’s Conquistador to try to qualify for state against Rudosky and his strong Panthers’ squad.
Rawles thinks Gillespie, Ward and Bogus will have a shot at individually qualifying.
Still, on the Panthers’ home course, it won’t be a walk on the fairway.
“I’d say we’re going into the lion’s den, but they’re called the Panthers,” Rawles said with a wry smile.