DENVER — At his regional tournament two weeks ago, Monarch’s Caleb Michaels wasn’t having much fun at all.
The pressure of qualifying for the state golf tournament a fourth straight time — pieced with trying to bring his team along — honestly “felt like a job,” he said. He thought he might even miss the cut (though in reality that was nowhere near the case).
That burden was gone Monday, stripped away under the sun at City Park Golf Course for the Class 5A tournament.
An exhale, with a sense of freedom to his game, the calm and often-jovial Michaels finished tied for third on Day 1, carding 1-under-par 69. He stood just five shots back of leader Austin Barry of Fossil Ridge going into the final day Tuesday.
“Just getting here took all the weight off the shoulders,” Michaels said. “I feel like I can just go play now. Whatever I shoot, I shoot. At least I get to play.”
The senior finished with five birdies, two bogeys and a double. His demeanor during the round was framed perfectly on his final hole. Lipping out a near-sixth birdie on the round, he amusingly fell backwards, folding into a pretty technically clean summersault. He then popped up and sank his par putt with a grin.
“It was fun,” Michaels said just off 18. “I made a lot of birdies. I made probably a few more bogeys than I should have. But it was fun. I had a good time out here.”
Behind him, Luke Blankinship finished tied for sixth at even-par 70 for Boulder, which was the lone 5A program from the BoCoPreps.com area to qualify a full team to Denver.
It was the senior’s second time at the state tournament after being called up as an alternate in 2020. For his other three teammates — Doug Holleman (76), Siadhal Sweeney (82) and brother Eamon (87) — it was their first.
“The focus has gone up every match. They’ve put more attention to detail as they’ve gone along this season and the scores have improved, too,” coach Russell Selnau said as his Panthers made it to 5A tournament out of regionals while FRL league leaders Monarch and Fairview did not. “So, they’re seeing proof of what we’ve been building up to.”
Blankinship finished with three birdies and three bogeys.
After his round, he thought he hit the ball pretty well but struggled putting — couldn’t putt to save my life, he announced afterward to his teammates. The exception came on his second-to-last hole, the par-3 No. 8, when his putt twisted and turned some 50 feet before sinking to the roar of spectators.
“Got a bit lucky (there), I think,” he cracked.
Fairview’s Sawyer Sales finished one shot back of Blankinship, tied for 11th at 71. Outside of a double on par-4 No. 7, the junior had a clean round with a birdie.
Sales said his second trip to the state tournament has felt a lot better than his first.
“I know I belong here and I’m a completely different golfer this year (than last year),” he said. “I’m ready to learn from my mistakes from last year and go out and play the best golf I can.”
Rounding out the local field, Legacy’s Ben Cerretani (74) and Front Range League champ Talan Gover (74) are tied for 31st. Fairview freshman Miles Kuhl (78) is tied for 59th and the Lightning’s Luke Tourault (79) is tied for 64th.
Tee times begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, with the leaders going around 10:30 a.m.