BLANKET — Following last year's fifth-place performance at the UIL Class A Boys Golf State Tournament, the Blanket Tigers are looking for a spot on the medal stand later this week.
The Tigers, the runners-up in Region III-A, will compete at the two-day, 36-hole state tournament Monday and Tuesday at Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin.
“One thing we have going for us is experience,” said Blanket head coach Monty Jones, as the Tigers return all five of last year's state competitors. “We have several schools this year who have not been here. There are others returning who have lost very good players. We feel like we're in the middle in it, but for us the key word is consistency. We can put together some very good rounds, but we haven't put two good ones together back-to-back.”
The Blanket squad of Luke Kinkade, Blake Hood, Trenten Verner, Mark Lopez and Josh Schwab fired a 734 at regionals to finish 29 shots back of regional champion Iredell. Though the Tigers are not returning to state as regional champions, Jones feels that may be best for the team.
“I think we've had a better year than last year which surprises some people,” Jones said. “The thing that's helped is we've used everybody's score this year. If somebody's been down somebody else has picked us up, and that's really helped us.
“We went as regional champs last year and we got a dose of second place this year. Going in as first last year gave us a fall sense of security. I don't think mentally we were ready to participate. We have to take care of our business, we just can't show up, we have to be accountable for our play. But we do have a legitimate chance.”
The Tigers are led by Kinkade, the 2016 Class A boys state champion who finished fourth at state last year, bouncing back from an opening 79 to finish with a 73 and 152 total. Kinkade pulled off a similar feat at regionals this year, overcoming a six-stroke deficit with a closing 72 after an opening 83 to finish with a 155 total and one-stroke victory over Iredell’s Adrian Benitez.
“Luke has a purpose to play for this year, he's trying to get back on top,” Jones said. “It's time for him to be in the 60s. That's no pressure on him, he knows that.”
Asked about earning a potential second state championship, Kinkade said, “That's what I'm shooting for. I'd like to win it by 20 strokes.”
The biggest key for Blanket in its pursuit of a state championship is a better start in the opening round. Last year, the Tigers shot a 385 composite score on Monday but shaved 17 strokes off Tuesday for a 368. Blanket finished 29 shots back of third-place Garden City.
“We're going in feeling more relaxed than we were last year,” Hood said. “I'm confident that we're going to cut off about 30 strokes from our first day last year. Instead of 380 we'll be shooting in the high 340s or low 350s. I don't think the pressure is really going to affect as much as it did last year.”
Kinkade added, “We feel more confident going in this year than last year. We got a lot more work in.”
The Tigers also struggled during the first round at regionals this year, which led to a deficit too great to overcome in round two.
“At regionals we dug ourselves a big hole the first day, but we came back the second day and finished second very handily,” Jones said. “If we can go Monday and shoot what we're capable of I think we can move up into the first group. If we can get in the first group our experience there should pay off.
“We're capable of going 340, but we can't blow a gasket if the first couple of holes go haywire. Lions is a relatively easy course to play if you stay away from the fence lines and shrubbery line, and stay far enough away from the water, which can be intimidating.”
The Tigers are looking to join the Lady Tigers as state champions, as the Blanket girls won the title last year and are among the favorites again on May 21-22.
“It would boost our confidence in not only golf, but a lot of things we do here at Blanket,” Verner said of bringing home a potential team medal or state championship. “Maybe a lot more people would come out and play golf. Blanket could really be a successful long-term golf program.”