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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  High school sports

Jim Meehan: Prep golf standouts always prep for success

UPDATED: Fri., May 11, 2018

Mt. Spokane’s Gunnar Knutson drives during the District 8 3A championship Wednesday at Wandermere. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Mt. Spokane’s Gunnar Knutson drives during the District 8 3A championship Wednesday at Wandermere. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

I love playing golf but have little desire to burn through buckets of balls on the range. I might roll five or six putts on the practice green before heading to the first tee.

Yes, I’m aware those habits aren’t conducive to good scores.

That was reinforced Wednesday when I spent the afternoon watching the best 4A and 3A golfers in the Greater Spokane League at the District 8 tournament at Wandermere.

It’s been a strong year for the 4A/3A boys with 22 players boasting scoring averages in the 70s. That doesn’t include 3A district champ Gunnar Knutson because his average was 68.25. Players are allowed to drop one score if they competed in all five GSL tournaments. Knutson’s highest score was a 72 at Downriver.

“My goal was never to shoot in the 80s in tournament rounds,” Knutson said. “So far my high is 78.”

There is talent, depth and, as I heard often while chatting with the champions and several coaches, a time-honored explanation for those low numbers: Time invested equals results.

“Every time I’m at Liberty Lake, he’s there practicing,” Central Valley coach Steve Rasmussen said of senior Zach Stocker, who won the 4A district title and was runner-up to Knutson for GSL player of the year. “He’s really, really worked hard for what he’s earned. Just a great young man.”

Stocker played baseball – his father, Kevin, was a major league shortstop for eight years – before switching to golf a few years ago. He’s made impressive strides in a short amount of time.

The CV senior averaged 70 in GSL events. He fired 66s at Deer Park in the GSL finale and at Qualchan in the district opener.

“I was always a baseball player. I was following in my dad’s footsteps,” Stocker said. “My freshman year wasn’t the best year for baseball. I wanted to try something new. I was a little burned out and ready for a change.

“My grandparents were big golfers and my dad is a pretty good golfer and they were able to teach me and get me hooked on golf. I’m never not at the course.”

Stocker basically serves as team captain and quasi assistant coach.

“I’ve got some good freshmen in the system,” Rasmussen said. “He’s done a wonderful job keeping them all corralled and anytime I need to communicate something to the kids, he says, ‘Coach, whatever you need.’

“He even calls my wife sometimes to let her know when I’ll be home because I always leave my phone someplace where I don’t know where it is.”

Girls champions Emma Torres (3A) and Camryn Culp (4A) have made dramatic improvement during their prep years.

Torres recalled shooting 140 in her first GSL tournament as a freshman. The Rogers senior had one of her higher scores of the season Wednesday but still shot nearly 50 strokes better than her freshman year.

“It’s so great, considering where I started,” Torres said of winning her first district title. “I probably averaged in the 120s as a freshman.”

Culp was a volleyball player but caught the golf bug after joining Mead’s team as a freshman.

“We used to have family golf tournaments once a year at Deer Park and I would play two holes and drive the cart,” said Culp, who posted a 116 at Wandermere two years ago and shot a 75 Wednesday. “I took it up and loved it.”

The Panthers junior made the course her second home. She works nonstop on her short game, which came in handy when Mead coach Keith Ross held a putting tournament for all 27 girls in the program.

“She won, and then just for fun, the girls were like, ‘You should putt against Coach Ross,’ ” the coach said. “We putted nine holes and she beat me on the 11th hole. She’s a great putter.”

Culp embraces the challenge of a sport that isn’t easy on newcomers.

“It can be frustrating, but I love that it’s your own game,” she said. “You can have your personal best, you might not win a tournament, but you had your lowest round and you’re proud of that. There’s always stuff you can work on. I just shot the second-best round of my life, and I still have stuff I want to go practice and improve.”

Sounds like good advice for novice and accomplished players.

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