BROOMFIELD — After finishing a Class 5A state runner-up last season, there was only one possible finish that would leave Legacy’s Li Chen satisfied at the close of the 2013 season. The goal was first place.
Chen finished runner-up for the second straight year. Though it would have made many others happy, that outcome disappointed Chen. That says a lot about the Lightning junior.
“I can’t say it was a great season because I didn’t win state and I didn’t win many tournaments,” Chen said. “I wasn’t playing my best this year. But that leaves a lot of space for me to improve.”
There wasn’t much Chen didn’t try in order to reach Colorado preps’ golf pinnacle.
Chen spent the offseason lifting weights, working with his swing coach and even doing putting drills that utilize lasers. He spent the summer playing on the Rocky Mountain Junior Golf Tour and in American Junior Golf Association events.
Despite it all, Chen still finished two strokes behind champion Spencer Painton from Regis Jesuit. A respectable finish, one for hundreds of others to envy, but not the one Chen wanted.
Coming so close for the second straight season left Chen even hungrier for a title than before.
“What I’ve said to myself is that I have to get first next year because it’s my senior year,” Chen said. “Besides that, I don’t really think about anything else. I just go out there and play the best I can and see what happens.”
Since he was a freshman, Chen has had his sights set on matching the back-to-back state titles Legacy great Steve Ziegler won in 2005 and 2006. Ziegler, who graduated from Stanford last year, frequently comes back to speak to the Lightning golfers about things such as preparation, his experience with college golf and how golf lessons relate to life.
Chen’s relationship with the Lightning’s all-time great has helped him develop a progressive mentality. Bobby Ortega, who has coached the Lightning since the school opened in 2000, said that mentality makes him confident that Chen eventually will claim the title.
“What I’ve noticed about him is that he has the right demeanor on the golf course,” Ortega said. “He doesn’t show his emotions on the course and that’s part of him growing up from a freshman to a sophomore to a junior. He’s always had a good demeanor but he’s matured so much. He really is good about not being defeated when he doesn’t accomplish his goal. It just drives him to get better.”
Showing his talent, Chen shot a 5-under 67 on Day 1 of the 2013 state tournament at Murphy Creek Golf Course. Chen entered Day 2 just one stroke off the leader but Painton was too hot to catch.
Painton will graduate this year. So will his teammate Jake Kelley, who tied Chen for second-place with a 4-under 140.
Chen has the talent to score low and compete with the best in the state. Minus those who bested him this season, the door may be open even wider for Chen in his final go-around as a senior in 2014.
“A bunch of those Regis guys are gone and they’re really good so I think I have a great chance next year,” Chen said.
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