HAMILTON — As the first golf practice of the season wound down — marking the first official day of the 2019 fall sports season — Hamilton golf coach Owen Burch told of how two of his senior golfers, Tristan Hanson and Bryce Reed, were perfectionists in everything they did, particularly on the course.
Burch was able to illustrate his point just seconds after stepping out of the Hamilton Golf Club's clubhouse.
"Look, you can see the marks," Burch said, pointing to two footprints on the putting green from where Reed had been standing. "He has been on the putting range in one spot for a half hour trying to get that stroke and tempo (right).
"....That's what separates those guys. They're dedicated; they're here every day."
Reed Hanson and the rest of the Broncs have some outward motivation, too. Hamilton shot an impressive two-day team score of 625 last year at the Class A state tournament (which was also played at Hamilton's home course). That 625 would have been good for a state title from 2012-17, but last year it netted silver as Laurel finished off its tour de force with a championship-winning score of 597.
Laurel is expected to be stacked again this season. That's why Reed, who was one stroke away from finishing in the Top 15 and earning all-state honors, has been golfing nearly non-stop this summer.
"Me personally, it fires me up. I remember the feeling of losing to Laurel last year. That's what motivates me the most — I want to get back (to the state tournament) and hold up that title," said Reed who played in a golf tournament every weekend for a month over the summer.
Both longtime Stevensville coach Jack Filcher and Corvallis coach Kristy Schlimgen agreed with Reed and Burch that summer work on the course from their golfers is what's needed to succeed during the short fall season — the State A tournament in Laurel, scheduled for Oct. 3-4, is less than two months away.
"This game, if you don't get out and play, you don't get any better," Filcher said.
Fortunately, the Yellowjackets and Blue Devils each have some standout golfers that showed up on the links during the offseason.
That starts with the top returning golfer from any school in the Bitterroot, Corvallis' Macee Greenwood.
Greenwood, who finished in second place as a freshman last year at state, was literally employed on a golf course. She and Luke Schlimgen, who had an all-state season for the Corvallis boys, both worked at Hamilton's Stock Farm Golf Club.
That kept them busy near a golf course, but they still found time when they could to get on the course, too.
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"Just being around the game, being in that environment that atmosphere and being around other good golfers always helps, too," coach Schlimgen, Luke's mom, said of two of her all-staters.
Kristy's squad also brings back Keelee Storrud, whose eighth-place finish at state last year gave her all-state recognition. Storrud has stayed around the game, too. On Monday she was out at The First Tee's golf tournament, helping to keep score for younger golfers.
With Storrud and Greenwood highlighting a Corvallis girls' squad that took home third-place last season, the Blue Devils should likely have another shot at some more state hardware.
"I've been looking forward to this season," said Greenwood, who is the top returning Class A girls golfer with the graduation of Butte Central's Tricia Joyce, last year's state champ. "I definitely think we can make a run at it. The team part is my favorite part about it. We bond so well, and get a long so well that I definitely think we have a chance."
That was much like the camaraderie the Stevensville boys had last year, one coach Filcher said was one of his most memorable in some 30-plus years of coaching.
"It was the best ever. Those three seniors worked out all summer long and got after it," Filcher said.
"Those three seniors" were Zel Frost, Ivan Yasvac and Jayce Painter. Both Frost and Yasvac finished in the Top 15 at state, powering Stevensville's third-place finish — the Yellowjackets first-ever state trophy for their boys' program.
They'll be without the trio this season, but coach Filcher still has some golfers on the boys — and girls — team that he thinks can compete at an all-state level once again.
And it's because of the time they put in golfing during the offseason.
"Jasi Oyler, she plays three times a week. She's on the junior tour. I'm thinking she should go top 10 at state," Filcher said of his standout sophomore girl. Oyler placed 16th last season at state, just one stroke away from an all-state finish.
Coach Filcher also pointed out senior Jacob Watters on his boys' team as someone who played a lot of golf during the summer, as he looks to make up the nine strokes that cut off him off from an all-state finish last fall.
That quest, if it didn't start already, officially began Thursday for golfers.
For the rest of the fall sports — volleyball, football, soccer, and cross country —in the Bitterroot and around the state, practices open Friday.