Durango High School senior boys golfer Ethan Whidden has done a lot of off-season workouts and has played plenty of golf over the course of the summer, and when he takes to the first tee on Wednesday in the season-opening match, he will be as confident as ever in his game.
Whidden is one of three returners for the Demons boys golf team that qualified for last year’s Class 4A Colorado High School Activities Association state championship, and after a 10th-place finish, he is poised for another top result.
“I’m really looking forward to this year, and I started practicing earlier than my previous three years, so I feel like I’m in mid-season form and we’re only right at the beginning of the season,” Whidden said.
The Demons enter the season as dark horses among the CHSAA Class 4A state contenders. With Whidden pacing Durango, alongside state-qualifying sophomores Anthony Flint and Levi Tichi, with seniors Luke Ford and Sten Joyner competing for the fourth spot, the Demons are confident heading into Wednesday’s season-opening round.
“I think we’re going to be very, very good this year. We’re deeper than we normally are,” Whidden said. “We normally have two strong shooters, and the other three are a bit weaker. This year, the top three guys are shooting low 70s, sometimes under par, and our next couple of guys are battling it out, but they’re shooting high 70s and low 80s at the most. It’ll be interesting to see who takes the fourth spot, but it’ll be a good race. Everybody behind them are good, as well, and I think we’re going to be pretty strong.”
Durango will be competing at the Pagosa Springs Invitational Wednesday and will head to Montezuma-Cortez’s Panther Invitational, held at Conquistador Golf Course, on Thursday. Other season highlights include hosting two tournaments, Sept. 9 and 10, at both Hillcrest Golf Club and Dalton Ranch Golf Club. DHS will also look to give two-time defending state champ Montrose a run for its money, when it travels to the Black Canyon Invitational Aug. 21. The Indians are hosting the Class 4A state championship Oct. 7-8 at The Bridges.
“I’d like to give Montrose a run, as they’re the two-time defending state champions,” said DHS head coach Kirk Rawles. “There’s probably pluses and minuses (with that), as they’re hosting state, but I think with another year, these guys aren’t going to be intimidated and are going to know what they need to do. Fortunately, we play Montrose in a week and a half – they’re hosting a tournament – and we’ll see them again at Grand Junction. So, we’ll gather that information, we’ll host some tournaments, but we’ll know what we need to do to get up there and be competitive with them.”
One area that Demons sophomore Levi Tichi has improved on has been the mental side of his game. Last year as a freshman in his first appearance at state, Tichi shot 20-over-par and finished in 28th. Anthony Flint, the other state qualifier, shot a 19-over 91.
“Summer has been good and I’ve been playing a lot, and have been focusing a lot on my mental side of the game rather than my swing,” Tichi said. “I feel like my swing is there; it’s just my mind is my most powerful weapon, I think. I’ve been focusing a lot on my swing where it needs to be where I can shoot mid 70s, but in order to edge out some more people, it’s all mental.”
In addition, Whidden’s time in the gym helped gain plenty of strength, as he has added 15 yards to his drive and is more confident in his putting. He believes with the additional yardage on his drives and his ability to make more putts, his scores will continue to drop.
“I’d say the weakness was always that I’d always lip the putts but wouldn’t drop them,” Whidden said. “This year, I have the confidence and am going for every hole now. I know where I want to score ... Right now, in my head, anything over par I’m not happy with, but I’ll take an even or a one-over par, but anything over a 74, it’s just OK right now. My goal is to always be under par.”
Ford said that with two different styles of courses in two days, it will be a good opportunity to see where the Demons are at.
“Pagosa is a tough course, and you have to work on a lot of different shots; if you miss the fairway, you’re in the trees and are punching out,” Ford said. “It will be a good chance to work on those different shots. Cortez is a different course, where you don’t need to hit the fairway but you need to have a good shot onto the green because the greens are really tough. It will be a good mix to start the season to prepare us for once we start playing those bigger tournaments.”
“I think we can go out there and play really solid golf all year, and we have a chance, and I’m looking forward to how it plays out,” Joyner said.