By KEVIN THOMPSON

sports@gctelegram.com

LAKIN Ten in a row.

That's what Lakin was shooting for at its season-opening invitational. And they got it.

The Broncs withstood some tough conditions on their home course, shooting a 369 to hold off a challenge by South Gray (373) and Cimarron (374).

One goal down, now the rest of the season to go.

The day started inauspiciously enough with placid breezes and trade wind temperatures.

Then after two holes, Mother Nature said, "Enough of that," and the western Kansas wind swept over the Lakin Golf Course, leading with a dust storm and daring to challenge golfers from 13 teams in the season-opening meet.

Lakin adjusted, though, and rode three individual finishes in the top 15 to squeak out the win.

"Ten in a row. That's what we're after," Lakin coach Travis McAtee said. "I didn't know what we'd need to shoot. I thought it would have to be better than this, but we weren't expecting as strong of winds as we did."

The Lakin course plays tough enough even in ideal conditions, McAtee said, so start throwing in the 40-mile per hour wind into the equation, and who knows what will come out.

Obviously, though, the results speak for themselves.

"I was nervous," he admitted, especially after the front nine. "I thought we might not get it done today. Our goal every year is to win our invitational and we got that done."

Because the meet was played on the Masters tournament weekend, a green jacket was awarded to winner Garret Watkins of South Gray, who shot an 85 to beat out Alex Jones of Lakin by one stroke.

"I played pretty good on the front nine, then the wind really picked up and it got a lot harder to control the golf ball," Watkins said. "That threw me off quite a bit."

Watkins said playing the Lakin course often has made him feel comfortable on it, almost like a home course. That definitely helped him in this round.

On his true home course, Jones put the pressure on Watkins on the back nine.

Watkins made the turn at 39 to Jones' 43. But Jones chipped away at the lead until the par-3 fifth, where he parred and Watkins double-bogeyed, giving Jones the 1-stroke lead.

Jones parred the sixth hole while Watkins took another double, and Jones had a 3-stroke lead with three to play.

Then some errant shots on the final three holes cost him a shot at the title.

Those three holes were all 6's, while Watkins came in at 4-5-5 for the one-stroke difference.

"I started out bad, but on the back nine I came through. I came back from five strokes down and thought I had (Watkins)," Jones said. "I just finished with some bad holes."

Jones said he got on track on the back nine by making putts that he hadn't done on the front nine, but his touch ran out down the stretch and cost him.

"My drives overall were really good and I hit a lot of fairways," he said. "My main problem was I wasn't getting it close enough to the hole."

South Gray coach Jeff Blattner was pleased with his team's second place finish.

"We worked really hard in the preseason on our short game and putting because that's something I felt we didn't do enough last year," he said. "I hope that will start paying off and not getting any more of those three putts. And we're working on getting the ball in the fairway and quit using their driver all the time."

Holcomb senior Brady Merz, playing in his first high school meet ever, finished third with an 88.

"Honestly, the wind tore us apart today," he said in assessing his team's performance. "There were putts where, if the wind grabbed it, it was going off the green."

His good finish was a pleasant surprise, he said, especially having been bothered by shoulder issues the past few years.

"I've always played golf and golf was my last option with my shoulder, so I thought I'd give it a shot," he said.

His driving and chipping have been strong in the preseason, he said, but now he has to get his putting down.

Working on keeping the ball low, especially in conditions like Friday, will pay off too. It's that mental angle, Blattner said, that will help guide his South Gray team the rest of the season and make a run to return to state (Class 1A).

McAtee agreed, saying his team needs to use this first-meet win as a barometer by which to gauge the rest of the season.

"We have a lot of room to improve, just like everybody else. We'll continue to work and try to get better and shoot some better scores," he said.

See results in Scoreboard, Page D2.