By BRETT MARSHALL
When Garret Watkins left the ninth green and headed to the 10th tee on Monday during the Sublette Invitational boys golf tournament, he found himself at 3-over-par and thinking perhaps of just trying to break 80 for his 18-hole round.
Four holes later, Watkins was not thinking of 80 at all as he went on a blitz of the 10th through 13th holes — going birdie, birdie, par, eagle — to dip to 1-under-par for the day.
The South Gray senior didn't finish as strong as he would have liked, but his 3-over-par 75 was good for a one-shot victory over Austin Stebens of Ashland and helped his Rebels to a three-shot team victory over Stanton County and Ashland over the difficult Buffalo Dunes Golf Course layout.
All in all, a good day for the lanky 6-foot-5 Watkins.
"It's part of golf, you can have the best holes then it's gone just like that," Watkins said of his struggles on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes where he went bogey, bogey, double bogey. "I just tried to have some fun and take advantage of playing on a really nice golf course on a really nice day."
The Rebels finished the day with a 327 team total as they got a 79 from Trenton Holloway (5th), an 84 from Carson Skidmore (14th) and an 89 from Collin Wright.
"It was a day where we had some good efforts from the boys," said South Gray coach Jeff Blattner. "We had some kids who stepped up, but this is the first time since I've been coaching that we're taking some hardware home so it feels really nice. Ashland is still the team to beat (in Class 1A).
The day proved productive for the area's Class 1A schools who were competing against mostly Class 2A and 3A schools along with junior varsity squads from 4A Ulysses and 6A Garden City.
"This was definitely a good day for the little guys," Watkins said of the 1A successes. "Golf is a tough sport and you don't have to be at a big school to be able to play the game."
For Stanton County's Trojans, it was a day in which Seth Holliday and Broc Ellis carried the team, with each shooting a 79. In the four-way playoff for third through sixth places, Ellis finished fourth and Holliday sixth. Ingalls' Slade Loewen (Class 1A) won the playoff to finish third while Holloway grabbed fifth.
Trojan coach Marty Cook was happy with the way his team performed on the demanding Dunes layout.
"We played better than we've been playing and these scores are more where we knew we could be," Cook said. "Playing here and having this kind of performance will give us confidence. Our regional is really tough, so we're just going to have to continue to work and improve. I thought Seth (Holliday) really made a big step forward for us today."
Holliday, in fact, was about seven shots better than his season average, Cook said.
"What helps us is that we've got six kids and on any given day, any of them could be in our top four scores that count," Cook said. "It's good to be that deep and I know what they are capable of doing. I'm proud of the way they played today. We didn't have the best start, but we battled well, hung in there and finished strong."
For Watkins, the individual title is a boost to his confidence as the season nears the mid-point.
"It definitely helps with my confidence," Watkins said. "There's not as many tough courses that we'll play as playing here. Here, you've got to focus on hitting fairways and greens."
Watkins employed a strategy of keeping his driver in the bag most of the day, using it only once, hitting 3-wood off the tee twice and the remainder of the par-4s and 5s he utilized a 4-iron off the tee.
His blitz of the first four holes of the back nine came with a 10-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 10th hole. He followed that by stiffing a pitching wedge to three inches on the 11th for back-to-back birdies. He parred the par-3 12th before heading to the short, par-5 13th. He hit consecutive 4-irons, the second from 262 yards and found himself within 10 feet of the hole where he calmly sank the eagle putt.
From there, however, he struggled to keep his composure, a less he said he will take away from the experience.
"That's the best I've done in a tournament like this and I think I just got too aggressive, too greedy on the next few holes," Watkins said. "The shots I hit, the results were what I deserved."
He managed to regroup and parred the closing 17th and 18th holes to finish at 3-over-par and take home the win.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.