BROOMFIELD -- Upon completing the first round of this year's Class 5A state golf tournament, most of the field was eager to pack up their bags and rush home in order to obtain some rest before Day 2.
Not Eric Chen.
The Legacy sophomore, unhappy with his first round score of 76, headed straight to the putting green and spent an hour attempting to work out the kinks in his stroke. The extra time put in would prove to pay off as he stormed all the way back to take the tournament lead before eventually settling for a second-place finish. The late surge, coupled with a first-team All-Front Range League-caliber season, has earned Chen the BoCoPreps.com Golfer of the Year award.
"He always has a great demeanor when he goes out there," Lightning coach Bobby Ortega said. "Even though he has high expectations, he doesn't let it get to him if he has a bad hole or day or anything like that. He felt like he was a little off-balance, maybe leaning forward too much is what we talked about. So he worked on it and then let it go."
Having reached an understanding with his putter, Chen -- also an All-Colorado honoree by the Denver Post -- came roaring out of the gate to open the second round. He dipped as low as 3-under for the day before bogeying holes 14 and 15 and settling for a 1-under 70. That number was good enough for the best round of the tournament, matched only by Douglas County's Kyler Dunkle, the eventual champ. Dunkle's two-day total of 145 wound up besting Chen's by a single stroke.
The comeback completed what could be described as somewhat of a 'sophomore slump' for the Lightning star, at least when compared to his lofty expectations. After finishing 32nd at state as a freshman and having success at several national tournaments over the summer, both he and those close to him had set the bar high for the prep season. Although Chen will allow only that he simply attempted to post the lowest scores he could, his coach was unafraid to acknowledge his youngster's potential.
"I knew that he had potential when he first came in (to Legacy) to be a state champion," Ortega said. "I didn't know if it was his freshman year, but sometime."
While Chen did finish first in a couple of Front Range League tournaments and accumulate a stroke average that was good enough for first team all-league honors, he was never quite able to string together the type of play that signaled what was to come on the last day of the season.
"To be honest, this whole year was kind of a down year for me," he said. "There are a couple tournaments that I played all right, but none that I could say I played my best."
Although most golfers around the area would happily accept the title of state runner-up, the ambitious Chen has already set his sights on the next two state championships, both of which are certainly within his reach. Winning consecutive rings would be quite the accomplishment. But Chen wouldn't have to look far for company. Legacy's Steve Ziegler accomplished the feat less than a decade ago, winning the Class 5A tournament in 2005 and 2006.
What areas would Chen have to develop in order to make those dreams a reality?
"I just have to improve everything, so that's what I'm working on," he said "Everything."