GREAT FALLS — Inflated scores and frustrated competitors were the first imprint of the winds sweeping across Meadow Lark Country Club.
However, as the groups of the Class AA State Golf Championships were finishing their last holes, the 40-50 mile per hour gusts ran their last victory lap, upending a tree on one of the fairways, tearing it from the ground in a symbolic display of strength.
But if you ask Billings West senior Carrie Carpenter, whose sharp 3-over-par 75 leads as the top girls score after the first day, it comes down to focus and knowing when to go with the wind.
“I had to swallow my pride on a few shots,” Carpenter said. “When things are playing 20 yards longer than normal, you just have to play with the conditions and hope for the best. It’s hard when your 7-iron is going much shorter than you’re used to.”
Many players and coaches were vocal about how difficult the winds were, and it showed on the score cards as well: only five golfers in the tournament, male or female, were able to break 80. Carpenter was joined by Marcella Mercer of Flathead as the only two girls to achieve a score in the 70s.
For Carpenter, this moment is not unfamiliar. The Golden Bear senior has been a stout competitor at the state level for the past two years, but has not been on the positive end yet.
“Last year, I was in this same situation,” Carpenter said. “I was leading by four strokes, and lost by one after the second day. This time, I have to stay focused on myself and each shot.”
While Carpenter looks to overcome previous years’ difficulties, she’s also assisted the Golden Bears to fourth place spot after one day, 19-shots behind team leaders Butte. Heading into the final day, the Bulldogs claim a six-shot lead over Bozeman, the defending champions from 2018.
The Bulldogs’ top scorer, junior Ella Prigge, led Butte with an 82, leaving her in third as an individual. Prigge says that being in a position to win is great, but that the Bulldogs have work to do.
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“It’s exciting,” Prigge said. “But we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves. It’s not over, we still have another day to compete and we’re trying to stay calm and focused. We’re looking forward to Day 2 and playing our best.”
Butte head coach Eric Mankins agrees that there is still work to be done and areas to improve, but is proud of the Bulldogs for putting themselves in a position to succeed.
“They did a good job did today in those wind conditions,” Mankins said. “Not their best scores, but they persevered and did as much as they possibly could. Could’ve folded, but they didn’t and stuck together.”
While the girls’ side of the tournament could see the team and individual titles change hands, the Bozeman boys are on pace to win back-to-back titles. The Hawks hold a 37-stroke lead as a team, with Bozeman brothers Justus and Jordan Verge claiming the top two individual spots, with a one-under 71 and two-over 74 respectively.
In fact, the Hawks had all four contributing scores finish tied-for-fifth or better, seeing R.J. Small and Ramey Lloyd both posting 82s to round out the Hawks’ total of 309.
Justus Verge says that Bozeman expected a difficult day at Meadow Lark, but that he and his team prepared as best as they could by practicing shots that could succeed despite the gusts.
“Our whole team prepared beforehand,” Verge said. “The weather was saying 25 miles per hour today, 40 mph gusts, but it was definitely more than that… Personally, I’ve been practicing the flight of my tee shots so I didn’t lose as much distance as I could have.”
Missoula Sentinel and Helena Capital make up the second and third spot behind the Hawks, sitting at 346 and 347 respectively.
The second and final round of the tournament begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.