Youthful Falcons play like stars to win CIF boys golf championship
Despite being the No. 1 seeded team heading into last week’s CIF Boys Golf Championship, Torrey Pines was hardly the veteran, star-studded type of unit that had won the last five section titles.
With three legitimate county top 10 players opting not to play high school golf this season and another member of the regular season first five unavailable, Head Coach Chris Drake sent out a quintet that featured no seniors—three juniors, two sophomores and a freshman—not one who had a round of CIF experience under his belt.
They may not have been well-known, but on the big stage, Drake’s youth brigade played like stars, bolting out to a 23-stroke lead after the first 18 holes (Monday and Tuesday) at St. Mark’s Golf Course. They kept the pedal to the floor during Thursday’s final round at La Costa Resort to give Torrey Pines its sixth CIF Division I title in a row, shooting a combined 24 over par while out-distancing runner-up Steele Canyon by a whopping 36 strokes.
Torrey Pines, and Division II winner Cathedral Catholic, will now advance as the San Diego section’s representatives to the CIF/SCGA Southern California Regional Championship (there will be no CIF State Tournament this year), Tuesday, June 15, at Pasadena’s Brookside Golf Course.
For Drake it was the most significant step in a season-long grind that produced amazing results. “Today is the realization of a goal we set for ourselves five months ago,” said Drake. “Since Regionals is all we could shoot for, we wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to win that title and now we have it.
“When so many top players chose not to play, I though it would hurt us but these guys really stepped up.”
All five Falcon scorers finished in the top 20. Sophomore Phillip Kench was at the top of the list, carding an even par 143 (70-73) for the combined 36 holes. He was Torrey’s low man both days. Drake was not surprised by the showing.
“Phillip’s long off the tee and really has every shot in his bag,” said Drake. “He’s not one of those machines who’s right down the middle every time off the tee, but when he puts himself in a tough situation, he is able to find what he needs to get back on track.”
“Overall solid play,” said Kench describing his performance over the tourney’s two days. “I definitely hit it sub-par off the tee, which is usually a strength, but putted very well and chipped pretty good too.” He was pleased just having the chance to be playing high school golf.
.”After having everything canceled last season, it was awesome to be here and a really special experience,” Kench added. “I’m happy with my finish and take a lot of pride in helping win the team title for Torrey Pines.”
Of course, Kench had plenty of help. Sophomore David Zhang, who shot an even par 72 at St. Mark’s, tied for 15th, followed by junior Ryan Plodkowski (T18), freshman Jay Leng (T18) and junior Alex Moores (T20). Junior Johnavon Kim was the Falcon’s non-scoring sixth man. Plodkowski matched Kench’s two-over 73 at La Costa.
Leng had a particularly interesting week, which probably typified the “do whatever it takes mentality” that pervaded this season. The talented 15-year-old first-year prepster spent Monday in Atlanta, Ga., at Piedmont Driving Club, playing in the USGA’s U.S. Open qualifiers (yes, the major tournament being played at Torrey Pines this week). He finished in an extremely credible 25th place while playing with a pair of touring pros in rainy conditions (the top five finishers earned U.S. Open berths).
After posting a one-under par score for 36 holes on the grueling 7,200-yd. layout, he hopped on a plane that landed in San Diego at 5 a.m.. Two hours later he was heading out to St. Mark’s to represent Torrey Pines in the first round of CIF play. He got around St. Mark’s in two over par and was six-over for the championship.
“It was a fun week overall but I was really tired after 36 holes Monday,” said Leng. “I didn’t play great here this week but it was really nice to contribute to a winning effort for Torrey Pines.
“It’s good to be part of an environment where you’re encouraging other people and having other good players there to help you.”
The individual medalist in the CIF Tournament was Luciano Conlan of Classical Academy who registered back-to-back three-under par totals to top runner-up Shea Lague of Steele Canyon by three strokes. Canyon Crest’s Jaden Hunter tied for third and his CCA team finished fourth in the Division I standings.
Yufueng Ma (T15), Brian Hanson (T25) and Kevin Jiang (T27) paced Cathedral Catholic to the D-II title and a second place overall team finish (combined D-I and D-II) behind Torrey Pines which is what lifted the Dons into the CIF SoCal Regional event. La Costa Canyon, anchored by the two over par 145 of Jonas Appel was 15 strokes behind Cathedral, placing second in D-II.
In the aftermath at La Costa, Drake captured the essence of his team’s victory and the season in general. “It was such a difficult, different year where everyone faced a lot of adversity—not being able to go to school, not as much opportunity for team-building or training, so many things,” said Drake. “On our team, I think these were the right guys for this year—a stable, team-oriented, goal-oriented set of individuals.
“I don’t know if we could have done this and have had it been as fun without this particular group of guys.”
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