Kench, Falcons face on, off course challenges in drive to defend section golf title

Junior Phillip Kench was Torrey Pines low scorer at last year's CIF Championship.
Junior Phillip Kench was Torrey Pines low scorer at last year’s CIF Championship.
(Ken Grosse)

Going into last week’s high school spring break, the Torrey Pines boys golf team, six-time defending CIF Division I team champion, was a heavy favorite to make it seven straight come May. The Falcons were No. 1 in the section power rankings by a wide margin and their roster included all six starters from last year’s title squad.

Coming out of the break, without playing a match, Coach Chris Drake’s outfit is now facing a much different scenario. Two of the current top six are now academically ineligible, one their top individual scorer through the first two months of the season.

Plenty of bad news there, but the good news is that if there is a team in San Diego that can potentially survive that kind of predicament, it is the Falcons.

“Losing two guys is going to make things a lot more competitive,” admitted veteran Head Coach Chris Drake, who’s been at the helm for all six of the most recent CIF triumphs and 14 overall. “There are a lot of talented teams out there but we’re definitely the deepest and should be better able to withstand losses and remain competitive.

“This may force us to bring up some guys from the second team that we weren’t necessarily going to bring up. We’ll be hoping they can push the other guys and while having their own chance to play their way into the post-season.”

Falcon junior Jay Leng helps make Torrey Pines a formidable team in 2022.
Falcon junior Jay Leng helps make Torrey Pines a formidable team in 2022.
(Ken Grosse)

Drake will have five of the six that represented Torrey at last year’s section tournament, juniors Phillip Kench, Jay Leng and David Zhang and seniors Alex Moores and Johnavon Kim available. Junior Matthew Broder is back after skipping last year’s CIF event in favor of a U.S. Open qualifier and Colin Li, a sophomore transfer from Bishop’s, figures to make an impact.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Drake still has a player like Kench at the top of his roster. Kench, currently ranked sixth overall in the CIF’s individual player rankings, was Torrey’s low scorer at the 2021 CIF Championships (fifth place) and brings intangibles to the table that complement his strong game.

“Phillip is a good team player and he’s playing with a maturity beyond his years,” said Drake. “He’s smart and plays that way.

“Everybody out here is long and putts well but Kench is just good all around and really practices all the shot. He always has a strategy and can execute a plan. He knows what shots to hit when and doesn’t try to just power through everything,”

Kench was matter-of-fact about the changes to his squad’s lineup and echoes the belief that his coach has going forward.

“It’s unfortunate and those guys will definitely be missed,” said Kench, “but our objectives are still the same and as competitive as we are, we’ll bounce back, no question.

“I try to remind our guys that we’re still going out there to win and we have others who can step in and play just as well—we’ll use it as a rallying point to give us some more fire.

“Depth is our No. 1 trait and our players feed off each other. We’re a very close-knit group, play against each other all the time and when you do that, eventually you just get better and better.”

The 6-1, 175-lb. Kench says practice and strength work have made him a better ball striker, longer off the tee and improved his putting. But when asked about his goals for the season, individual accomplishments never entered the conversation.

“I play every day partly because I really want to put another CIF banner in our gym,” said the UNLV-committed Kench. “It’s very important, a must. We want to keep our streak alive and it would be a real shame if we didn’t make it seven.

“We also want to take a shot at the CIF State Championship. Covid shut that down for us last year, but I think we can do it.”

A varsity member since his freshman year, Kench has a clear vision of where he wants to go.

The early decision to play his collegiate golf at UNLV was based on the coaching, facilities and pursuit of a business degree he could use “in the real world.” Just as important is the fact that Head Coach Dwaine Knight has sent 11 Rebel players (seven current) to the PGA Tour—and make no mistake, that’s where Kench’s focus is set in terms of a post-college career.

“While I was watching one of my future UNLV teammates (current freshman Aaron Jarvis) at the Masters this week, I thought ‘what’s the difference between him and me,” said Kench. “No doubt, there are a lot of good players out there but you’ve got to be confident—can’t make it without confidence.”

First things first, though. There’s plenty of work to be done before UNLV or a possible run at the pros. For the revamped Torrey Pines team, now 10-2 on the season, the march towards the May 16-18 CIF Championship began Monday at Fairbanks Ranch against Rancho Bernardo and St. Augustine, the first of a demanding four-match in four days stint.

“Our goal is always to be playing our best golf at the end of the season,” said Drake. “And even though we’ve had an outstanding start, I don’t think we’ve played our best yet.

“It’s going to be pretty non-stop over the next three-to-four weeks, we’re going to be competing for a league championship and in the process determine who the top six guys are going to be for CIF and go from there—it’s going to be a challenge.”