Cedar Valley junior golfer Tristan McKinney wasn’t enjoying the stunning views of Utah Valley or savoring the perfect sunny weather as he stepped up to the first tee to start his final round at the 4A state tournament at TalonsCove golf course in Saratoga Springs on Thursday.
No, he was definitely feeling the nerves that come at a state tournament.
“It’s hard,” McKinney said. “You try to take a deep breath but the nerves are still there. You’ve got to swing through it — but it didn’t work well for me today.”
The butterflies took their toll on the talented Aviator athlete as his first couple of shots weren’t what he wanted.
“I hit the ball out of bounds, then topped the second shot,” McKinney said.
One of the great lessons golf teaches is that it is all about the next shot, something McKinney kept in mind as he rallied from his tough start.
“On every shot, you trust the process and make the best of it on your next shot,” McKinney said. “After those two shots, I hit it to within 15 feet from 200 yards out, then made the bogey putt. I got rolling from there.”
He ended up with a bogey and began putting things together, eventually finishing with an even-par 72 for the round.
“He was terrific today,” Cedar Valley head coach Nate Crandall said. “I loved watching his round today. After being in a ton of trouble on No. 1, he fought so hard to get that bogey. That set the tone for his round. You can’t say enough about the resiliency that he showed.”
It turned out to be that kind of day for the Aviators as the golfers made some brilliant shots but also got into some trouble. The end result was that the Aviators settled for third place in the team competition, losing to the state champs from Crimson Cliffs and to second-place Sky View.
“They were trying so hard,” Crandall said. “They are cared a lot and their emotions were high. That helped them at times but I think it hurt at times too. You get that roller coaster of emotions going and it’s tough.”
He explained that his guys knew they had the capability to play better than they did but they also ended up being one of the three best teams in their classification this year, which is something to be proud of.
“You hate to finish third and not get a trophy but we are a brand-new school that was third out of 16 teams,” Crandall said. “It’s a mix of emotions. That’s kind of golf. Golf is the perfect metaphor for life in that way. Sometimes it’s going great and sometimes you have to fight to get by. That’s what I love about the game and love that the boys get to learn that.”
McKinney said Cedar Valley just kept battling, no matter what happened.
“We got off to a rough start but just tried to keep it together,” he said. “It was up-and-down but we fought through to the end. We won region and then to finish third at state for a new school, I think that’s a good start.”
Leading the way for the Aviators was senior Caden Dunn, who matched his first-round total with a 1-under-par 71. His two-day score of 142 put him individually in a tie for third place.
Crandall credited Dunn and the other seniors — including Jackson Shippen, Bowden Hunter and Dallin Weierholt — for setting a high bar for boys golf in its first year at Cedar Valley.
“You can’t say enough about the seniors and what they did,” Crandall said. “I’m a huge believer — especially in high school sports — that your senior leaders are the ones who really set the tone for your team. If you have good senior leaders, you have the opportunity to have a great team. All of the seniors add tremendous value to the team. They’ve created a really nice culture where guys have fun and enjoy being around their team. The seniors have been a special group.”
McKinney said it will be tough to return next year without those seniors around.
“I’ve played with these guys since I started golf,” McKinney said. “That’s going to be hard to see them go.”
Now the baton passes to McKinney and sophomore Landon Dunn as well as the other underclassmen to maintain the level of play that the 2019 established as the standard.
“Those two are really good golfers but they are also out of the same mold where they care a lot about the guys and about each other,” Crandall said. “They get up and have team practices together in the morning and I think Tristan will carry that tradition on. There are guys on the team who weren’t out here today who have made some big improvements. We’re looking to have them jump in and fill those spots. It’s easy to get excited about next year when you know you have some awesome kids coming back.”
McKinney said he’s looking forward to that challenge.
“It’s going to be different but it will be fun,” McKinney said. “I’m ready for it.”