Former Basalt golfers square off in Junction |

Former Basalt golfers square off in Junction

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION – Jim Knous and Connor Rakowski couldn’t help but laugh Sunday as they prepared to tee off on the eighth hole – their 17th of the round – at Grand Junction’s Bookcliff Country Club.

The friends, practice partners and former Basalt High School golf standouts previously pondered what it would be like to battle each other for the 54-hole Colorado West Amateur title. They got what they had hoped for.

“I think inside, we both knew this was going to happen,” Knous said Tuesday. “We knew we were both going to be in the hunt.”

“We know that on any given day, either one of us can beat each other,” added Rakowski, who just completed his freshman year at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. “This was definitely one of our better battles.”

That’s an understatement. The two shared the lead with two holes to play in Sunday’s final round. Rakowski pulled ahead by one stroke after Knous’ approach sailed over the 17th green, leading to a bogey. Rakowski maintained that margin after both parred the 18th and finished with a 1-over-par 72, a three-round total of 214 and the win.

“It was a lot of fun. He’s beaten me a lot of times – he definitely tends to get the better of me,” Rakowski said. “It was kind of nice to get one here.”

The duo made a bet before the tournament that the person trailing after two rounds would have to drive to Junction for the third. They were forced to flip a coin before leaving on Sunday morning after sharing the 36-hole lead. Rakowski wound up driving – and wound up winning.

After a birdie at the par-5 first – the group’s 10th hole – Rakowski stretched his lead to two. Both missed the green to right at the par-3 second, but Rakowski made a good read and sank the putt to complete the up-and-down. Knous bogeyed, falling three off the pace.

“At that point, with seven holes to go, I was thinking, ‘Man, I really need to start getting something going,'” Knous said. “I knew he wasn’t going to completely fold. He was 1-under at that point. … I knew I had to turn on my game.”

Knous pulled to within two after getting up-and-down from short of the green at the third – Rakowski’s par attempt lipped out – then hit his 9-iron 5 feet from the cup on the par-3 fourth. He confidently rolled the ball home, trimming the deficit in half.

“He made a really good putt – I can’t take anything away from him,” Rakowski said. “He had to try and make it because if he missed it would’ve gone pretty far past the hole.

“At that point, things got a little more serious. On the next hole, he got up to the tee and ripped the ball down there. I started to get a little worried. I play with him every day in the summer, so you know when you see each other start to turn it on. He had 75 yards into the green … I kept telling myself I knew he was going to hit it close. He did exactly that.”

Knous’ approach landed little more than a foot from the pin. After Rakowski’s birdie attempt from 18 feet rolled off line, Knous tapped in to square the match.

Rakowski, admittedly a little flustered, hit a tree off the tee at the sixth, but was the beneficiary of a good bounce. Both players wound up missing 10-foot par putts.

They tried to lighten the mood at the second-to-last hole.

“We were laughing and joking around,” Rakowski remembered. “You know, it takes a little pressure off..”

Rakowski stepped up to the 17th and drilled his tee shot into an adjacent fairway to the right; Knous did the same to the left. Rakowski hit his approach to 17 feet, then Knous made a costly – and untimely – mistake.

“I just hit a stupid shot,” he said. “I missed on the wrong side of the green and had a pretty much impossible chip with no green to work with and downhill.”

Rakowski two-putted for par, while Knous bogeyed. With a one-shot cushion, Rakowski pulled out a 3-wood on the final hole and split the fairway. His chip rolled to within 5 feet, all but guaranteeing him the victory.

Knous, who bombed his drive but could only salvage par, was the first to congratulate his good friend.

“Down the stretch, at least I got myself back into it. Then I hit some poor shots and couldn’t close,” said Knous, who finished in the top six in eight of Mines’ 10 tournaments in 2008-2009 and was named Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference freshman of the year. “I applaud him for closing.”

The title is Rakowski’s first since winning the Westminster Invitational in Salt Lake City in late April. His

4-under, three-round score of 212 was good for a five-shot win and helped NAIA Rocky Mountain College secure the team title.

“We both had good freshman years, and are both really proud of each other,” Rakowski said. “We’ve kind of done this together. … We’ve been together since freshman year of high school … It’s nice getting the chance to play and seeing how our games have developed.”

Knous echoed those sentiments.

“It was like a Basalt High School reunion out there,” he joked. “It was fun playing with each other all three days. I think we both enjoyed it. I know I did.”

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