Basalt golfers ready to take their games to the next level |

Basalt golfers ready to take their games to the next level

Jon MaletzAspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Basalt golfer Connor Rakowski tees off on the first hole at the Aspen Golf Club in 2006. (Alvin Rakowski courtesy photo)

BASALT Former Basalt golf coach Pat Riley is currently reading John Feinsteins Tales from Q School: Inside Golfs Fifth Major. The book chronicles the travails of golfers striving to earn their PGA Tour cards.The tales of heartbreak and close calls are compelling, Riley said Thursday. They also strike a personal chord.They make me think of Jim and Connor, he said. I wonder where theyll end up.While their ultimate destinations have yet to be determined, former Longhorns standouts Jim Knous and Connor Rakowski are taking their games to the next level this fall. After years spent humbling area golf courses and opposing teams they led Basalt to consecutive regional titles the duo will soon be teeing it up for college programs.Knous has committed to Division II Colorado School of Mines in Golden, while Rakowski is heading to NAIA Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. The Battlin Bears were ranked as high as 13th nationally last season, Rakowski said.For two golfers from a small school to be going to play in college its a cool thing to be a part of, he added.We grew up competing against each other, Knous said. The last three years we both actually got better by playing together. It was definitely good timing.Knous knows a thing or two about good timing. He won nine of his teams 11 regular-season tournaments in 2007 and finished first 67 percent of the time during his junior and senior years. College coaches took notice. Knous battled a head cold and a difficult Broadlands Golf Course to finish seventh at last years state tournament in Broomfield. School of Mines coach Tyler Kimble watched Knous play a few holes. Soon after, he started sending the high school senior e-mails.Knous, who had sent out e-mails of his own to schools in California, Arizona and Colorado, among others, and had drawn mixed responses, was intrigued. After getting to know Kimble, Knous was ready to take the leap.In November, he formally committed, joining a group of five incoming golfers that coach Kimble said might be the most talented recruiting class that the Oredigger golf team has ever seen.I just wanted to play college golf and was looking for a good deal, Knous said. I think things worked out for the best.Rakowskis college selection was pure happenstance. While he had been considering the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Hastings College in Nebraska, and Western Texas College, among others, it was during a cursory Internet search of Montana schools that he first learned of Rocky Mountain. Purely on a whim, he decided to apply. Rocky Mountain head coach Randy Northrop wound up contacting Rakowski. And, after a trip to Billings a place he said bares a striking resemblance to the Roaring Fork Valley Rakowski was convinced the golf program and the school were an ideal fit.Northrop agreed in a recent article in the Billings Gazette.We feel like Connor has the ability to step right in to our program and be one of the top three golfers right away, Northrop said.That sentiment is comforting, Rakowski said.I still realize I do have to go out and play well, but its nice to hear that, he added. My big thing was I wanted to be able to play my first year. Big schools get whoever they want, so I figured I wouldnt have as much of an opportunity.These opportunities are ones both players aim to take full advantage of. After years spent dominating at the high school level, both Rakowski and Knous said competing for a spot will be different, but it is a challenge they relish. Ive always had a competitive edge. Youve got to fight for what you want, Rakowski said. Knowing that the other guys on the team have all had experience, I know Im going to have to prove myself.Knous likened the situation to his first season with the Longhorns.I think its just like before when I came up as a freshman and wasnt the first guy on the team yet, he said. I had to work my way up and challenge myself to get better every day, and I was able to elevate my game to the point where I was able to compete with everyone on the Western Slope. Hopefully I can do that at the college level.Both have been hard at work on their games. The longtime playing partners schedules are so full that they have rarely crossed paths this summer. Since graduation, Knous estimated hes played in five to six tournaments across the state. He shot a 76 in a U.S. Open qualifier in Fort Collins. The Front Range trip included an impromptu practice session with Steve Irwin, son of three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin. He qualified for the states mens matchplay tournament after shooting an even-par 72 on the same Broomfield course that hosted last years state tournament.While hes satisfied with his long game, Knous said he never stops tweaking his play around the greens.I think my putting is pretty good, but I tend to give away a few strokes when Im chipping, he added. In a junior stroke-play tournament a few weeks ago, I lost three or four shots around the green because of chipping. I was right off the green after two shots on a par-5, but I came away with a bogey.I feel like every round Im learning new things and progressing the way I play.Rakowski continues to post impressive scores despite working with Ironbridge Golf Club pros to overhaul his swing in an effort to produce a more consistent ball flight. He shot a 2-over-par 72 at a Colorado Junior Golf Association-sanctioned event in Montrose, then rebounded from a round of 77 with an even-par 72 on Tuesday at the CJGAs Haywhacker Tournament in Steamboat Springs. During a tournament Wednesday in Vail, Rakowski hit 11 fairways and 11 greens in regulation, but piled up 37 putts in 18 holes. Its a work in progress, but Rakowski said he likes how his game is taking shape. Hell head to Billings on Aug. 15th. A four-round team tryout begins Aug. 17th.After his experiences with both adversity and triumph at Basalt from struggles to find consistency and battling sickness to his 5-under 66 as a junior Knous said hes prepared for anything.Youve got to dig deep and pull out your A game, no matter what, he added. Its a one-time deal. Thats how its going to be in my life at college. You know you have to play well, thats all there is to it.Both players are eager to take the next step. And while they wont be wearing the same uniform next season, Knous and Rakowski are excited that theyll be taking that step together.Whether either succeeds in attaining their ultimate goal of reaching the PGA Tour is uncertain. If they do, it sure will make for an interesting book chapter.No matter what happens, Riley said hell be watching.I know theyre going to do well in college, but how far they go will depend on their desire, Riley added. Theyre wonderful kids and great golfers. The coach that gets them in college is going to be very