Pressure on golf to make state

Golfers ready to rise to challenge, earn first team bid to state in four years

Gary Baker earned his second state bid at the Mountain Ridge tournament in Flagstaff. Now Baker is doing his best to help his team earn a bid to state. VVN/Travis Guy

Gary Baker earned his second state bid at the Mountain Ridge tournament in Flagstaff. Now Baker is doing his best to help his team earn a bid to state. VVN/Travis Guy

With two more opportunities to make the cut for state, the Mingus Union golf team is in a position to hit its goal of qualifying as a team for the tournament.

The golfers most recently traveled to Flagstaff for the Mountain Ridge Invitational Oct. 11-12. Divided into three flights spread out over three courses, the Marauders participated in the second flight at Flagstaff Ranch Golf Course.

Playing at a new course, it took the golfers a day to get used to the links, but on the second day, three Marauders picked up qualifying scores.

"I thought we played very well on a very tough golf course," head coach Craig Mai said. "Gary [Baker] did a fantastic job leading the way. He ended up fifth in our flight, and Ryan held in there tough. Had a birdie the last hole to get a qualifier with his back against the wall, and he came through. It's nice and he knows that under the pressure when he has to do it, he can. Orlando played solid. A.J. struggled the first day and came back the second day really well. And then we had Keagan Lamb. A little freshman did outstanding for us. Shot 88 the first day, 86 the second day, so I'm excited."

Senior Gary Baker was able to alleviate some of his pressure by notching his fifth qualifier, making him the first individual eligible for the state tournament. Baker shot a 38 on the back nine. Fellow senior Ryan Sullivan and junior Orlando Machado each picked up their third qualifiers.

"Yes and no," Baker said about whether the pressure has been lifted. "... I still need to come out and do well because we've still got a chance to qualify as a team. We have to qualify both days to qualify as a team for state, and I can't just hold back and do whatever right now. I've got to focus up, do as good as I can to help my team get qualified."

Because of the solid play from those three, as well as senior A.J. Valenzuela and freshman Keagan Lamb on the back nine, the Marauders added a third team qualifier by shooting a combined 160, 6 under the required 166.

Over 18 holes, the Marauders shot a 345 the first day and a 331 the second. The improvement was just what Mai and his golfers needed.

Baker led the team with a sixth place finish on the second day and an eighth place finish on the first. Overall, the senior shot a 155, 11-over-par.

While the first day was one stroke kinder to Baker than the scoring day, the rest of his team was able to improve considerably between days. Machado finished the second day in 16th with 83, five stokes under his day-one score. Sullivan shot a grisly 91 on the opening day in Flagstaff, but rebounded with an 84. Lamb shaved three strokes off his score, shooting an 86 and Valenzuela hit a dismal 108 as he learned the course, but chopped 20 stokes off his score to end the day with an 88.

"I really struggled on the first day, couldn't do anything right and had a lot of trouble hitting the greens, making putts. Just all-around it was terrible. In the trees a few times," Sullivan said. "Then the second day, the only thing that I was wanting to do was go out and get that qualifying round that I needed and I did that. After that, I kind of took a little siesta and wasn't really into it for the second nine. After I qualified in the front, I was kind of taking it easy."

With the team in the final week of the regular season, a match on Oct. 17, followed by the Johnny Uidenich Memorial Invite today, Oct. 18, hold even more importance to the Marauders.

"I think that there was a lot more pressure up there on the course that I'm not familiar with, to get a qualifying round, than there will be out here," Sullivan said. "Easy home course. We're familiar with it and have both done really well, so I don't feel like there's any pressure. I just need to go out and shoot a halfway decent score and I'll make state."

If they can rise to the occasion and handle the pressure as a team, Mingus will qualify for state for the first time since 2009. This will be an easier task if both Sullivan and Machado (who is in his first year on the team) are able to tally qualifiers on the two days.

"I think if we were somewhere else, it might be tough, but they know, they're comfortable, they're familiar with the course and they know how they can perform here," Mai said. "I think they'll rise to the challenge. That's my expectation, but we'll see. It's golf. It's tough. You never know what's going to happen one swing to the next."

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