Kench, Torrey Pines boys take aim at repeat performance in CIF Golf Championships

Defending CIF individual champion Phillip Kench.
Defending CIF individual champion Phillip Kench.
(Ken Grosse)

Torrey Pines boys golf coach Chris Drake’s teams have won 11 San Diego CIF championships since 2010, the last seven of those consecutively.


Torrey Pines boys golf coach Chris Drake is either the world’s most humble man or one of the game’s all-time sandbaggers—in the most positive sense of the word. His teams have won 11 San Diego CIF championships since 2010, the last seven of those consecutively, but prior to every post-season competition Drake’s analysis of his squad’s chances of winning comes off as something similar to a weekend duffer beating Tiger Woods in his prime on the final 18 at the Masters. Yet, despite their coach’s restraint, the Falcons somehow just keeping taking home the trophies.

Their next chance comes in roughly a week, when this year’s 36-hole section tournament is slated for Wednesday, May 10 at Steele Canyon Golf Club in Jamul and Monday, May 15 at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad.

A cursory look at the latest CIF Power Rankings would leave most people rating Torrey Pines as a prohibitive favorite. The Falcons have opened a sizeable gap in the differential numbers (average strokes over par relative to the difficulty of the course) used to seed participating teams and have a whopping seven of the top 20 ranked players. No other team has more than two.

Junior Jay Leng tied for seventh at the 2022 section tournament.
Junior Jay Leng tied for seventh at the 2022 section tournament.
(Ken Grosse)

But whether he’s being modest or simply has enough history to know there’s never a sure thing in prep sports, Drake’s first response to a question of how he thinks his team will fare in its quest for eight straight is to rattle off half a dozen potential challengers for the title.

“We may be ranked No. 1 overall, but there are plenty of teams that could challenge us if we don’t play our best,” said Drake. “Classical Academy, Cathedral Catholic, La Costa Canyon, Bishop’s, Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad—those are all quality programs that have talent and have been here before.”

That said, the potential of this year’s side makes it difficult for even Drake to downplay their chances at prevailing for the eighth time in a row.

“If we play our game, we should win,” admitted Drake, whose team reeled off five consecutive under par scores over the past two weeks. “I think numbers show this is one of the most talented teams I’ve had in 15 years and our depth from No. 1-7 is probably the best we’ve ever had.

“But we’ve still got to get into our championship mindset and play well over two days, using mind and body together to make it happen.”

Whoever is chosen for Torrey’s six-man CIF lineup, it figures to be not only skillful but experienced. Drake returns five of the six players who represented the school at last spring’s event, including the defending medalist, Phillip Kench. Before heading off to play college golf at UNLV, the 18-year-old senior has a chance to become only the third player in section annals to go back-to-back at the CIF Championship. His coach feels he has a real shot.

Falcon senior Josh Chung is part of a strong Torrey lineup.
Falcon senior Josh Chung is part of a strong Torrey lineup.
(Ken Grosse)

“Phillip came into our program as a great golfer and has steadily improved every year,” Drake says. “Not a lot of juniors win CIF and you’ve got to expect him to be in the mix to win again, he’s playing very well.”

Major challengers just might come from his own team. Seniors Matthew Broder and Josh Chung along with juniors Jay Leng and Colin Li have all got the game to be near the top of the leaderboard. Leng placed in the top 10 last spring and Li was not far behind. Drake has seen improvement in all four.

“Jay’s put on height and muscle that’s showing in his length,” said Drake. “Matt has upgraded his course management and embraced stepping into a role as team leader on and off the course, Josh has been playing lights out and Colin just went three-under at La Costa against LCC.” Seniors Taiki Marsh and David Zhang along with sophomore Ethan Elleraas are vying for the sixth spot on the Falcon CIF list.

While the CIF banner is a primary focus for Drake & Co., a win there would put the Falcons in position to snag an even bigger prize—the CIF State Championship. The top two teams from San Diego will advance to the CIF Southern California Regional, May 24, at Los Serranos Golf Club in Chino Hills. The best three of the 10 qualifying schools in that tourney will advance to the State Championship a week later at Poppy Hills Golf Club in Pebble Beach. Torrey Pines has won the State’s top prize three times (2010, 2016 and 2018) was second to Concord De La Salle at the 2022 State event.

Torrey Pines senior Phillip Kench
Torrey Pines senior Phillip Kench
(Ken Grosse)


Solana Beach resident Phillip Kench was introduced to the game of golf by his father around the age of four, played his first round on a regulation course at Colina Park in City Heights and the first experience he remembers with certainty came at Torrey Pines South hitting from the front tees. He’s come a long way since then.

Today, the 6-1, 175-pounder is getting ready to defend his CIF individual championship title and join his Torrey Pines cohorts in a bid for a repeat team crown. Next year he’ll head off to UNLV where he’ll play college golf and pursue a business degree with a long-term goal of earning a place on the PGA Tour. When the topic is his senior standout, veteran TP Head Coach Chris Drake is quick to praise.

“Phillip came into our program and was a solid contributor almost immediately and has steadily improved every year,” said Drake. “His distance is good, he’s got great power and a wide variety of shots.

“Mentally, he is playing smarter now and is not afraid of anything—golfers, golf courses, different shots—he’s fearless.”

Kench took time recently to reflect on a range of topics, including the prospect of being part of four straight CIF championship teams, individual vs. team aspects in golf and the talents of several teammates.

Q—What would it mean to you to finish your Torrey Pines career with four team championships?

KENCH—It would mean a lot to me. I try not to worry about the results as much but it’s an honor to be in the position to do something like this. I know the team’s legacy at Torrey Pines and have envisioned this possibility. We’re going out there having worked hard and knowing we have the capability to do it again this year.

Q—What is more gratifying, winning the team or individual championship?

KENCH—I’m out there for the team first, the individual stuff is second. For me, it’s always come from a sense of loyalty—I’m playing for Torrey. It means more for me to see Torrey Pines No. 1 than myself. Our team’s the same way and I think that’s one reason we’ve been so successful.

Q—With that in mind, how tough is it going to be to win a second individual title?

KENCH—It’s tricky, but doable. I’ll just try to give it my best run taking the same attitude as last year—playing for the team and hope things work out individually. It starts with mental prep before the round and to me the mental part means going out on the course, having fun and staying loose. That’s when I play best and am confident about my game and ball-striking. As far as the technical side, I just want to keep the ball in play and have the putting be on, as simple as that.

Q—In a sport that is largely individual, how did you develop your affinity for team play?

KENCH—I think it goes back to when I was in seventh or eighth grade, playing in the PGA Junior League. I was on a team from California along with my current Torrey Pines teammates Jay Leng and Matthew Broder. There were thousands of teams and we finished first.

We won the championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale and I really enjoyed the family-like environment that format created. It was a big building block for me.

Q—What are some of your best memories from playing at Torrey Pines?

KENCH—Looking back, there are a lot of good memories and I think it’s really prepared me for college golf and my next four years at UNLV.

The thing I’ll probably remember most, though, are the bus rides—they’re awesome. The team trips we’ve taken to Northern California and other places have always been fun and you get to know the other guys pretty well.

There’s been a lot of extracurricular stuff like walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and we ate there at a place called Sam Cho in Chinatown that was great. Going to Pasadena for the CIF Regional the last three years has been a blast, hanging out as a team, hitting the hotel pool. We’ve also gotten to play some incredible golf courses including Rancho Santa Fe CC and The Grande Del Mar locally. Coach Drake runs a great ship and all the guys really respect and appreciate him for all the experiences we’ve had.

Q—Are there parts of your teammates’ games you would like to have?

KENCH—Oh, yeah. Matthew Broder has fantastic putting skills and I love his putting stroke. We play a lot of putting games as a team and he seems to always be the one sinking the clutch putts.

Jay Leng’s ball-striking is outstanding. It seems like I’ve never seen him hit it out of play—always straight down the middle, a real gift. Josh Chung’s scoring ability—his scrambling is incredible. If he puts himself in a bad spot he’s always able to get out.

Q—Is this team good enough to win the CIF State Championship?

KENCH—I believe so. I know what the team can do and we’ve just got to put things together. Last week, we shot four under par as a team at La Costa and if we can do that, we have what it takes to win. We’ve got a lot of experience and great depth. I like our chances.