By BRETT MARSHALL
Even though he had to wait until his final year of high school golf, and had to wait and play an extra hole of sudden death, it was all worth it.
That's how Lakin's Alex Jones felt after an exhausting day of battling bone-chilling temperatures and high wind, Friday at the Hi-Plains League golf tournament at Garden City's Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
But after defeating Elkhart's Colton Hardy on the first hole of a playoff for medalist honors with a bogey six to Hardy's triple bogey eight, Jones could breathe a sigh of relief.
"This really feels good, especially since I started off so bad," Jones said. "The start wasn't good but I sure was able to end it good."
Jones and Hardy had tied with 83s on the par-72 Dunes layout which, when combined with 25-35 mph wind from the north, made the course brutally unforgiving for the HPL teams.
Elkhart won the team title with 348 strokes while Southwestern Heights (351), Meade (357), Stanton County (363) and Lakin (370) rounded out the top five teams. Jones and Hardy finished one shot ahead of Stanton County's Seth Holliday and Heights' Taylor Collins. Those two also went to sudden death with Collins winning on the first extra hole.
For Jones, though, he said his game has finally come around in the last couple of weeks and has been consistently in the low 80s after struggling early in the season.
"(The HPL title) was one of my goals at the start of the season, so this is really a good feeling before regionals (3A at Goodland on Monday)," Jones said.
His poor start, which included a quadruple bogey eight on the par-4 third, put him in a spot early on.
"I just played a bad hole there," Jones said. "The holes into the wind just played harder and they're usually the ones that are the easy ones."
Following the disaster on the third, Jones went on to par, par, par, birdie on holes four through seven before settling for a 43 on the outgoing nine. He played the tougher back nine in 4-over 40 to rally and tie Hardy.
"I really like the course, but it's so tough with the conditions we had," Jones said. "Today, I made a lot of par putts and that was the key. I had to hit a lot of low shots to keep the ball out of the wind as much as possible."
Stanton County's Holliday, who has also seen his game improve this year, was simply glad to finish the round without any major disasters.
"It's the fourth time I've played here, and we've had rain and cold before, and this year it was just so windy," Holliday said. "The back nine was just terrible with the north wind. The front played pretty good."
Holliday's front nine was highlighted by his lone birdie of the day, when he hit a pitching wedge to within one foot and made the putt.
"After that it was just bogeys out and that carried into the back nine," Holliday said.
Lakin and Heights will be competing Monday in their 3A regional at Goodland while the Class 2A schools of the HPL — Elkhart, Stanton County, Meade, Cimarron, Wichita County and Syracuse — will be at Elkhart for their regional tournament. The Class 2A state tourney is slated for Buffalo Dunes on May 23.
See results in Scoreboard, Page D2.