Basalt High boys golf heads to state tournament with mix of experience, youth

A Basalt High School golfer competes at the Aspen High School golf regional on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, at Aspen Golf Club. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

With 27 holes under their belts, the Basalt High School boys golf team isn’t quite as wary of Eisenhower Golf Course as it may have been. Yet, those practice rounds over the weekend also gave them a lot of respect for the course that will host the Class 3A state tournament Monday and Tuesday in Colorado Springs.

“The greens are just so difficult. They are bumpy and they break in weird ways. They are just tough,” BHS coach Joseph Fries said Sunday night. “It’s going to be the equalizer for sure. The golf course, getting off the tee is pretty simple. The greens are big so they are easy to hit, but once you get on them, it’s just a crapshoot.”

The Longhorns have four golfers competing this week at Eisenhower, which is located on the U.S. Air Force Academy’s campus. Senior Blake Exelbert and junior Tyler Sims have played in a state tournament before, while sophomores Braden Exelbert, who is Blake’s younger brother, and Kyle Murray are new to the big stage.

Sims and Murray are BHS students, while the Exelberts both attend Glenwood Springs High School and compete for Basalt’s combined team.

“The course, it’s going to be a good time. It’s nice and open. It fits my playing style, but yeah, the greens are very tough,” Sims said Sunday after their practice round. “It was nice being able to confirm that what I did (Saturday) worked well (Sunday) and hopefully I can turn that into working well for me tomorrow.”

Basalt finished sixth at state last fall, a tournament won by Aspen High School at Boulder Country Club. Holden Kleager led BHS by tying for 16th, while Sims and Blake Exelbert each finished 24-over-par and in a tie for 33rd. Tyler Dollahan was the team’s fourth golfer last fall, finishing 62nd.

Despite not finishing as one of the top two teams — meaning automatic team qualification — at the regional tournament in Aspen last month, the Longhorns still managed to qualify all four golfers as individuals and will get to compete as a team at state. Murray, after losing in a playoff at regionals, was initially just an alternate but will get to compete at Eisenhower.

“That’s all we could ask for, really. The goal at the beginning of the season and even going to regionals was to get all four here and we did that,” Fries said. “We hit our stride at the right time. I feel like Tyler is playing his best golf of the year and Blake got a lot of rest last week. He’s been sick, but he looked good today. He hit a hole-in-one today, actually, in the practice round.”

Sims is the team’s No. 1 golfer, although there isn’t much separation between him and Blake Exelbert. The experience those two have should be a big advantage over their younger teammates who don’t that to lean on.

“Experience in this thing is absolutely important,” Fries said. “I hope they learned something at Aspen about nerves and how to handle them and how not to handle them. For sophomores, the experience alone is big.”

Having four golfers instead of three also helps Basalt, as it takes a little pressure off each of their shoulders. Only three scores count toward the team score.

“Having four is awesome,” Sims said. “It’s nice having the entire team here. It really gives us a chance to go after the team placing. It makes it more fun, I think. Makes it easier to go shoot better.”