Silver Creek ace Ben Harding compared his latest win to something closer to college basketball’s March Madness, fittingly hitting the equivalent of a jaw-dropping buzzer-beater to win the Colorado Junior Match Play tournament last week.
And, well, a 45-foot chip-in winner is certainly one heck of a way to create some waves before the high school season.
“I kept telling myself to play with no fear, make aggressive swings, don’t worry about what happens,” Harding said of his comeback over 2020 Class 4A state champ Jordan Jennings in the Colorado junior major at City Park in Denver from July 28. “And I feel like that could be something I use in regionals or state, where I’m feeling a bit of pressure, and I just play with no expectations and believe everything else will take care of itself.”
Aside from his dizzying winner, and some new hardware, Harding’s altogether appearance on and off the course has changed, signaling a more mature player than the one that left the 4A state tournament at the Colorado Country Club 10 months ago after finishing tied for 18th.
When asked about it, Harding said he’s gained two or three inches in height since last year, and is also filled out with more muscle, meaning further drives and longer irons.
“That was one of his biggest challenges (in his first two years in high school), not hitting the ball as far as some of his peers,” said Silver Creek coach Tyler Bishop, who heads into his second year at the helm of the Raptors. “His short game has always been amazing, which it had to be. But now he’s hitting the ball a little bit further, which is allowing the game to be a little bit easier.”
Harding said he has put in countless hours of practice over the offseason — be that at the range or hitting balls from the second story of his friend’s house.
His confidence on the course has swelled, too.
“I’ve had a number of productive conversations with (my personal coach) Keith (Martin) about playing with no fear,” Harding explained. “Just figure out a way to be comfortable and there’s no reason you can’t hit good shots.”
Harding, not shying from pressure he’s put on himself, said he believes he should have the chance to win every tournament he plays in the season.
More to the point, though, “it’s more about worrying about stuff like keeping the scoring average in the 60s and just trying to have my bad rounds under 75,” he said. “I’m not so much worried about the results of the tournaments and just focus on doing the best I can every shot.”
Some shots, of course, are more special than others.
His latest win came on the back of five 1-vs.-1 matches over three days.
The final two days, Harding played a total of 69 holes.
Late against Colorado State-bound Jennings, as the number of holes on the day blurred with the hot sun beating down on Twin Peaks Golf Course in Longmont, the Raptors junior trailed by two with three holes remaining. He then birdied No. 16 to climb within one, and made a 7-foot birdie on 18 to extend the match to extra holes. It all set up a winning pitch from left of the green on 19.
“To hang with someone as good as him is the biggest confidence boost I took from it,” Harding said.
Harding will now lead a team that includes fellow state-returnee Josh Lurie, as well as Quinn Lockwood and Tyler Plaster. The Raptors will compete in the second year of the Northern Colorado Athletic Conference and will see all the area’s other 4A players at the 4A Region 3 tournament in September.
The best from that — which could include returning 2020 all-region players Jake Chesler of Frederick, who took fourth last year at state, and Christopher Gunlikson of Niwot — will face off at the 4A state tournament held Oct. 4-5 at City Park, the place of Harding’s major win.
Recent state champions
2020 — Teams: Valor Christian (5A), Cheyenne Mountain (4A), Colorado Academy (3A); Individuals: Lucas Schulte, Valor Christian (5A), Jordan Jennings, Montrose (4A), Nic Pevny, Aspen (3A).
2019 — Teams: Fairview (5A), Montrose (4A), Lutheran (3A); Individuals: Will Kates, Arapahoe (5A), Micah Strangebye, Montrose (4A), Westin Pals, Lutheran (3A).
2018 — Teams: Fossil Ridge (5A), Montrose (4A), Aspen (3A); Individuals: Dillon Stewart, Fossil Ridge (5A), Micah Stangebye, Montrose (4A), Jackson Klutznick, Kent Denver (3A).
2017 — Teams: Regis Jesuit (5A), Montrose (4A), Peak to Peak (3A); Individuals: Davis Bryant, Eaglecrest (5A), Darren Edwards, Thompson Valley (4A), Davis Long, Peak to Peak (3A).
2016 — Teams: Regis Jesuit (5A), Discovery Canyon (4A), Kent Denver (3A); Individuals: Kyle Pearson, Highlands Ranch (5A), Luke Trujillo, Discovery Canyon (4A), Oliver Jack, Kent Denver (3A).
Cream of the crop: 2020 BoCoPreps.com All-region team
First Team (Name, 2020-21 class, school )
Jason Arbuckle, Jr., Prospect Ridge; Jake Chesler, Jr., Frederick; Adam Gannon, Sr., Longmont; Jackson Grace, Sr., Holy Family; Christopher Gunlikson, Jr., Niwot; Ben Harding, So., Silver Creek; Caleb Michaels, So., Monarch; Ryan Vaver, Sr., Centaurus.
Benedict Achziger, Jr., Holy Family; Luke Blankinship, So., Boulder; Braden Cafferelli, Sr., Erie; Cole Greff, Jr., Frederick; Tommy Hammond, Jr., Legacy; Jackson Harberts, Fr., Monarch; Trey Harman, Sr., Fairview; Rudiger Heitz, Fr., Holy Family; Ian Henderson, Jr., Monarch; Sawyer Hyten, So., Broomfield; Kaden Jaramillo, Sr., Broomfield;Sam Knowlton, Sr., Fairview; Caden Koole, Jr., Prospect Ridge; Jimmy Leuchten, Fr., Dawson School; Josh Lurie, So., Silver Creek; Adi Malhotra, Jr., Peak to Peak; Jack McLucas, So., Jefferson Academy; William Mitchell, Sr., Peak to Peak; Tommy Noonan, Dawson School; Ben Reifschneider, Sr., Broomfield; Ethan Runyon, Jr., Jefferson Academy; Deven Sehr, Jr., Legacy.