It was a scene that resembled the “Tin Cup” movie, only with a happy ending. In fact, this time, the longshot, heavy underdog, driving range pro Roy Mc Avoy, defied the odds and critics and captured the elusive U.S. Open title.
Last week, a similar miracle occurred with the Woodland Park Panthers’ golf team, leaving their doubters deep inside the local Loy Gulch hazards and winning their first-ever league championship, and clearing the charts in top medalist honors in the 4A Metro individual title. This is a team that for years was treated with little respect and was regarded as a high altitude joke.
Those days are clearly in the past
In following a pattern of victorious ways for 2016, the team won the Panthers Invitational at their home course, Shining Mountain Golf Club, on Sept. 13, with a total 244 team score. The mini-victor, though, was Shining Mountain, which devoured linksters from a bevy of nearly a dozen 4A Metro League teams. The course’s challenging layout, coupled with high afternoon winds, had many players waving a white flag with a desire to heave their drivers into the nearest lake. Many scores exceeded the mid-90s and hit triple digits. According to several coaches, too many players, especially those from competing teams, opted to take the offensive route against SM’s tight landing areas, with its multi-varied hazards that demolished even the sturdiest John Daly-like “Grip It and Rip It” golfing ego.
Even the Panthers’ number one player, Sam Levy, struggled slightly and carded an 80 (10-over par), not one of his better days. Levy, who has shot as low as a 69, had eyes rolling in earlier 4A League tournaments, when he carded a 73 at the Four Mile course in Canon City and a 73 at Cheyenne Shadows in Colorado Springs.
Levy also wasn’t in top health for last week’s invitational, struggling with a cold.
As a result of his earlier performances, Levy was the favorite to win top league individual honors. He accomplished that goal, but wasn’t the top scorer during the Panthers Invitational at Shining Mountain.
As for other top Panthers performances at last week’s invitational, Shane Purkey had an 80, Joey Babin carded an 84 and Joey Cisneros shot a 94.
The next milestone for the team is the regional competitions, with the prospects of qualifying players to the final goal post, the state championship next spring. Last year, Levy qualified for the state tourney.
In recent history, the Panthers have only sported a few players who advanced to the state championship. The coaching staff is optimistic about changing that scenario for this year.
But at least for now, the Panthers are relishing their victory, one of the highlights of the Panthers’ 2016 fall sports season.
“This was a big accomplishment and a milestone for us,” admitted head coach Brian Gustafson, who has held the golf team reins for eight years, under two different stints. He directed the program at its infancy when many Woodland Park kids just started learning about golf, following the Tiger Woods phenomenon, and with the opening of WP’s first local golf links.
He attributes the Panthers amazing upward swing to a group of stellar players, along with a good work ethic. For the last five years, the team has been a familiar fixture at Shining Mountain, with players working on various nuances of their games on a regular basis.
“We have a lot of course rats, admitted Gustafson. “These guys love coming out here and pushing each other. They have worked really hard. It’s been a great season.”