By KEVIN THOMPSON
LAKIN — For an opening tournament, coaches expect slightly higher scores for their teams.
But all coaches know that, more likely than not, Mother Nature will try to throw in a wrinkle or two to make the already tight Lakin course even more challenging.
Such was the case Friday at the Lakin Invitational, where high scores were the norm for all but an elite few.
Cimarron's Mitch Chalkley chalked up his second straight individual title, firing an impressive 76 under gusty sustained southerly winds with an occasional dust storm.
Chalkley took the title by six strokes over Elkhart's Hunter Burnett, and by 10 over a trio of golfers at 86.
Syracuse took the team title, 367-368 over Ulysses. Stanton County was third at 374.
For the senior Chalkley, the opening tournament was tough, but his attitude was even tougher.
The key, as usual, was his short game, especially his putting on the final nine.
"My back nine was a lot better. I couldn't make any putts on the front, but by the back, they finally started to fall," he said after firing a 41-35.
Lakin's course features two challenging par-3s, both into the south wind, but Chalkley went 1-under when much of the field struggled with club selection.
"I had to club down a couple on No. 5, but on three, I just hit the same club both times," he said. "I just hit it close to the hole."
He sank a long birdie putt on five the second go-around, he said, highlighting how well he putted overall.
Chalkley said his tee shots were, for the most part accurate to go along with his putting, but a bogey on seven and double bogey on the final hole wiped out a 3-under he had going on the back side.
Chalkley finished 13th at state last season and will be playing golf at Sterling College next season.
For now, though, his job is to just keep getting better.
"This was a good start," he said. "It's got me excited for our next meet (April 15 at Buffalo Dunes)."
Syracuse had two golfers medal in the top 10, as Cameron Coleman shot an 87 and Chase Keller an 89 to help claim the team title.
Not bad for a team of four sophomores and two juniors, coach Rick Mathias said, despite the high scores.
"This tight course with a lot of wind, you have to have tremendous control of your ball. We all figured the scores would be high, but I saw a lot of bad swings and chipping and putting," he said.
His team is happy with the win, he said, but they all know there's a lot of golf to play this season.
"Our lack of experience in these kinds of conditions really showed today," Mathias said. "But they're working hard. We're expecting good things to come from them."
Ulysses' Jonah Pfingsten placed fourth at 86 and Joseph Lisle fifth with the same score.
Scott City's Justin Unruh placed third, also at 86.
Ingalls' Slade Loewen, the defending Class 1A champion, struggled on the day with a 91, but it wasn't so much the conditions as it was the added handicap of a whole new set of clubs, which he has used for just a few weeks.
"It's been a heck of a deal playing with them so far this year," he said. "The irons are stiffer and I have a smaller face than what I'm used to."
But he's looking forward to the challenge of getting used to the clubs, he said.
"I feel pretty good about this. It tells me what I need to work on and what to improve," Loewen said.
Lakin coach Travis McAtee, whose teams had won 10 straight tournament titles until last year, was disappointed with a fourth-place finish but optimistic about his team learning from this.
"We've got to get a lot better individually and collectively," he said. "You can't look at these scores and say 'let's keep doing the same thing.' Several of our kids are disappointed but are going to play a lot better."
Last year's team struggled to win tournaments, he added, but turned things around late to win the league title.
"That's the goal, to be progressing to get better late in the year," McAtee said.
See results in Scoreboard, Page D2