Locos get historic State victory

By: 
CHRIS MCCONNELL
Outlook staff writer

On Saturday, at Sidney Country Club, the Laurel Boys golf team capped an outstanding season by winning the schools ninth State golf title, and the first one since the late ‘90s.

Laurel edged Polson by nine shots and Billings Central by 12 to claim their first team title since 1999, when golf was a spring sport in Class A.

The tournament was held during tough, windy conditions resulting in higher scores for most players. 

Coach Jim O’Neil said there was a stiff breeze both days, but, “it was a little worse the second day, plus the added pressure of a state tournament.”

O’Neil said as the groups started to finish their final round, there was, “a moment of doubt.” 

He was scoreboard watching and texting with Assistant Coach Shawn Hackmann, who was out on the course following groups.

“I finally started asking kids what they shot, and doing the math. When Shawn texted that Cash birdied his 17th hole, I knew we had it,” O’Neil said.

Along with the team title, the Locos had three all-state finishers. 

Freshman Carson Hackman was the Locos top finisher after taking 5th place with an 80-77. Paul O’Neil and Cash Golden tied for 10th after posting 80-84 and 85-79.

Rounding out the championship team was Kade Ewalt at 86-87 and Ryan Kallem with 82-93.

Libby junior Ryggs Johnston won his third individual State title in a row–and his first in Class A–after shooting 68-66, finishing 12 shots ahead of Central’s Liam Clancy who shot 77-69 to finish 2nd.

On the girls side, Laurel’s Elise Shover missed all-state designation by four shots, after posting 105-99 to take 17th. Keli Hodges took 27th with 106-109.

Coach O’Neil said the kids believed in the system which focused on practice and drilling for most of the season, rather than just playing a bunch. 

“The scoring got worse at first and I asked Shawn if this was the right approach. He said it was the right way to practice,” O’Neil said.

In the week leading up to Divisionals, they “focused on getting the ball into the hole,” and the results speak for themselves.

Paul O’Neil, who led the team in scoring over the season, was a little disappointed in his individual performance but he said the team goals were the priority, “we worked hard all year for this.”

In the seven exclusively Class A events this season, Laurel took 1st in four and 2nd in three as a team.

O’Neil was top-10 in all nine events this year with two individual titles, a second and three 3rd place finishes. His low round was a three-under 69, which he fired in two tournaments. Hackmann added two 3rd’s, a 4th and three 5th place individual finishes. Golden played in four varsity events and grabbed top-10 finishes in three of them. Kallem played in five events and got a 5th and two 6th place finishes. Ewalt teed it up in three events, taking a 4th and two top-20s.

Coach O’Neil said, “The boys are more of a team than I’ve seen in all my years of coaching. They defined what a team is.”

When the team bus pulled into Laurel Saturday night, they were greeted by a police escort with fire trucks and well wishers. O’Neil laughed and said that wasn’t the first cavalcade they encountered that evening. 

“The Sidney girls won state, and our bus got caught up in their parade as we left town.”

With the Laurel boys team only losing one senior, they are certainly favorites to headline next year’s parade season too.

The Outlook contacted 1999 Laurel High graduate Nathan Bailey, a three-time Montana State Amateur Champion and Montana Golf Hall of Fame member, who was part of the 1997-99 state championship teams and he offered these words to the 2017 team: 

“Congratulations to the Laurel Boy’s Golf team for capturing the 2017 Class A Golf title.  It is always exciting to see the Laurel golf teams excel and continue the strong tradition we have and bring home some more hardware.  My hope is that these young men continue not only their success on the course, but take this memory with them and grow from it and continue their life skills that the game of golf has taught them.”

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