LAFAYETTE — Davis Long wasn't necessarily expecting to win the 2017 Class 3A boys golf state championship so when it happened, he had to overcome some level of surprise before the accomplishment could truly sink in.
But playing without the burden of expectation may have been the only reason Long won in the first place. So now that he's the state champion and the expectation to defend the title as a Peak to Peak junior are unavoidable, Long is primarily focused on managing that pressure so that he can play freely and loosely, which is when he is at his best, when it matters most this fall.
"This summer was a little bit tough for me because I think I might have put too much pressure on myself," Long said. "Sometimes in golf, you just have to go out and play instead of saying, 'I've gotta do this,' or, 'I gotta do that.' I'd like my scores to be a little lower at this point in the season but I also know that as long as I trust that I'm doing the right things, it'll get there."
So far this high school season, Long's low score is a 71 and he is averaging around 74 strokes per round. At last year's state tournament, which was shortened to one round because of weather, Long finished with a 3-under 69 at the familiar Indian Peaks Golf Course in Lafayette to win the state championship by one stroke over Prospect Ridge's Walker Franklin and Kent Denver's Oliver Jack.
Franklin, who is a good friend of Long's, is back in the mix and looking every bit like a contender early on. After Franklin and Jack, who graduated in the spring, tied for second at state last season, a group of eight players tied for fourth and several of them are returning this season as well. Beginning on Oct. 1, this year's two-day 3A state tournament will be held at Boulder Country Club and Long knows the odds are against him despite being the reigning winner.
"I'd love to win it," Long said. "I definitely think I'll be in the running. But there are a lot of really good players in 3A so I know it won't be easy. At the end of the day, I just want it to be fun. That was the best thing about last year. I had so much fun being in contention at the end of the state tournament. I'm trying to put myself in those positions as much as I can, just go out there and play golf and see what happens."
In a similar position to Long's, the Pumas also won the 2017 3A team title in a two-team playoff but graduated a trio of state qualifiers in Ian Thorpe (4th), Nishant Datta (14th) and Ethan Tartaglia (27th) from last year's state lineup. Veteran head coach John Thornbury also retired after the 2017 season.
With Michael Ventimiglia taking over as head coach this season, the Pumas are also tempering their own expectations with so many new faces. There is plenty of work to be done and still over a month left in the season, and with that in mind, Long and the Pumas are turning their attentions inward instead of worrying about external pressures.
"I'll be really honest, I want them to have fun," Ventimiglia said. "As long as these kids are having fun, they play well. Davis is the defending state champion and people want him. But with him, we're mostly focused on him staying out of his own way. We're just going to continue to work the short game and have fun. He needs to allow himself to be creative out there and not grind it too much. When he's doing that, he's really, really good."