By KEVIN THOMPSON
LAKIN — When Gage Ihrig was a freshman, he won a regional golf title.
A year later, there was not much he could do for an encore, so he just duplicated his feat from a year ago, this time with a 3-over par 73 at the Lakin Municipal Golf Course, winning by four strokes and helping his Goodland Cowboys to a 3A regional team title in the process.
Ihrig shot a 37-36, besting Mitch Chalkley of Cimarron by four strokes after both had carded 37s at the turn. While Chalkley struggled a bit the second time around the course, Ihrig was just letting his game happen.
Goodland won the team title over Phillipsburg, 321-330, and Ihrig and three others took advantage of prime conditions to shoot under 80.
Michael Leach (79) and Christian Blackburn (80) of Lakin, Charlie Pfeifer (79) of Cimarron and Justin Unruh (80) of Scott City were the other area golfers to qualify for state individually.
For Ihrig, his game Monday was pretty simple.
"I didn't hit the ball real good, but I kept it in play and didn't have any penalty strokes," Ihrig said. "I just made a lot of those five-foot putts you've got to make and knocked those down today."
Ihrig birdied the par-4 first hole both times he played it and one-putted his first four holes to keep his round smooth, managing the narrow fairways and small greens to near perfection.
"I've been working on my ball striking a lot and knowing where to miss," Ihrig said. "(The greens) are just like upside-down bowls so I just tried to miss it underneath the hole."
Teammate's Joel Linn (80) and Gannon Ihrig also medaled, helping the Cowboys to the title.
"We had some kids really come through today, especially on the back nine," Cowboy's coach Terry Daines said.
Chalkley won the first meet of the season at Lakin with a 79, and though his 77 was slightly better, he knew he missed some chances to go even lower.
"I kind of got myself in trouble," he said. "I forced myself to hit putts from 15 feet for pars.
Pfeifer's 79 came at a good time.
"It's the lowest I've ever shot in my life," the sophomore said. Playing the course early Saturday morning helped him get a sense of the layout of the place and a sense of comfort going into competition.
"The fairways are tight and you've got to stay out of trouble," Pfeifer said. "My key today was getting out of trouble. I was never in trouble for too long."
Last year, he missed qualifying for state by a stroke, so this was a redemption round for him, he added.
Both Lakin golfers are seniors, and playing on their home was a plus for qualifying one last time.
"I was hitting most of my shots the same and hit a lot of fairways," Leach said. "I hit a lot of greens and stayed out of trouble. I knew on every hole how I should hit and to what spot and where not to go."
Blackburn, who has now qualified all four seasons, said his 80 could have been a lot lower if he had just left his driver in the bag. With no par-5s on the course and the narrow fairways, accuracy was a must, and he didn't have it.
"So I pulled 3-wood off of the tee most of the day and it ended up working out pretty well," he said. It worked on the first hole, but cost him on the fourth hole both times around, including a penalty stroke the second time.
"But (qualifying a fourth straight year) is definitely a good way to go out," the senior added.
Lakin coach Travis McAtee liked his team's chances coming into this tournament, especially after having just won at Elkhart and then at the league meet at Buffalo Dunes last week under tough weather conditions.
"I thought, going in, that if we played well, we'd have a chance (to qualify as a team)," he said. "We were where I thought we needed to be to compete and it just wasn't good enough today."
Home course advantage usually helps, McAtee added, but a number of good scores in great conditions nullified that edge.
"To have 80 be the last qualifying score to get in--usually out here it's closer to 85," he said. "Everything was just good here today."
Goodland hosts the state 3A tournament next week. Sugar Hills course has more hills, more trees and bigger greens, a stark contrast to the Lakin course, Daise said. He and his team are looking forward to playing a state meet in their own backyard.
"That's pretty exciting. We should have the advantage reading greens and knowing where to hit the ball. Hopefully we'll play as well as we did today," he said.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.