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RIDGEFIELD -- It just keeps getting better and better.
Which means it just gets more and more competitive.
Through the years, high school boys golf in Clark County has gone from having one or two special talents a school year to perhaps as many as a dozen when considering all the classifications. That's 12 golfers who could make a run for a state title.
Heck, just last spring, Brian Humphreys of Camas won the Class 4A state title as a freshman. Eddie Abellar of Union, then a sophomore, finished third. In all, seven Clark County golfers finished in the top 10 of their respective tournaments.
"I worked hard during the winter (last year). The ultimate goal was to win," Abellar said. "I worked my butt off, and I only took third. To win a state championship will take even more work."
A new school year has begun and freshman sensations have come in to replace any senior standout who graduated. Scores are low.
Fort Vancouver freshman Spencer Tibbits opened his high school career with consecutive rounds under par. On Tuesday, he won the Jeff Hudson Invitational Tournament at Tri-Mountain Golf Course, an 18-hole battle that featured 15 teams. Tibbits shot a 3-over 75 on a tough course to beat Humphreys and his Camas teammate Brett Ball by a stroke. Abellar and Columbia River's Brandon Barnes were two shots back at 77.
"It gives me some confidence," Tibbits said.
However, he was not satisfied with his score. He wants to be par or better, every round. That is the consensus among the elite players. Gotta go low or get out of the way.
Behind Humphreys and Ball, Camas captured the team title with a score of 318. Union was second at 322, followed by Skyview (335), Woodland (336), Columbia River (340) and Prairie (340).
It is no fluke that Clark County golfers are more competitive throughout the Northwest, according to longtime coaches and instructors.
"They're getting started younger," said Prairie coach Paul Shapard, who is in his 24th year with the program. "They're getting better and professional instruction at a younger age."
It is rare, almost unheard of today, for an athlete to pick up a club just for a few months of the year and qualify for state. Sure, there are some multi-sport athletes who golf well, but most of them at least keep active in the game during the offseason.
Most of the elites, though, are done with other sports.
"Baseball started messing with my golf swing," Humphreys said. "I kept getting injured in basketball, taking time away from golf. I wasn't going to live up to my full potential if I played other sports."
Harold Bluestein, director of instruction at Tri-Mountain Golf Course, instructs several of today's top golfers in the area.
"I've seen in the past that two- and three-sport athletes used to start specializing when they turned 16. I'm seeing them specialize now at 14," Bluestein said.
Or even younger.
Bluestein counsels players about the advantages and disadvantages of specializing.
"I don't encourage someone to become a one-sport athlete if he's an average player," Bluestein said. "But for the real good ones, I ask them to specialize."
First, he finds out what the player wants out of golf. If an athlete wants to play in college, then Bluestein said the teen should consider just focusing on golf.
Humphreys has been working with Bluestein since he was 12. Humphreys said it takes more than just going to the golf course. There has to be a plan at the range, not just going out to hit some balls. Discipline is involved in making oneself better.
"You have to develop all aspects of golf if you want to compete," Humphreys said.
"We dedicate ourselves to the game," Abellar said of the top-notch players. "We have a goal of playing golf at a higher level. It takes more sacrifice. It takes more hours."
Tibbits had his first professional lesson when he was 6 years old. Abellar was 8 years old.
Both want to win state titles.
"Just knowing I could beat a lot of good players from Washington," Tibbits said of his motivation.
"If I do win at least one, I'd feel my junior golf career would be complete," Abellar said.
Humphreys already has that state championship. Last year at this time, he set a goal of finishing in the top five.
It is a new season, and the competition is getting tougher.
These days, a top-five golfer in Clark County is automatically a threat to win a state title.
Boys golf preview
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brian Humphreys, so., Camas; Eddie Abellar, jr., Union; Zach Ng, sr., Mountain View; Spencer Tibbits, fr., Fort Vancouver; Brandon Barnes, sr., Columbia River; Trent Standard, sr., Fort Vancouver; Jace VavRosky, sr., Prairie; Diego De La Torre, jr., Hockinson; Ryan Sturdivan, jr., Woodland; Bryce Samwel, jr., Washougal; Tanner Huddleston, sr., Woodland.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
No. 1, Back to state: Clark County will again host the Class 4A and 3A state championships next May. The preliminary plan is for the 4A boys to play at Tri-Mountain and the 3A boys play at Camas Meadows.
No. 2, Beating the rain: Coaches for the boys golf season are in a race against time, trying to get a full season in, and the district tournament, before the heavy rains return to the Northwest. This school year, the season started a week later, so the coaches are squeezing in matches and tournaments before district in early October.
No. 3, Shots falling on Cedars: While the Hudson Invitational kicks off the prep golf season, the Prairie Invitational serves as a midseason barometer. The 18-hole tournament at The Cedars on Salmon Creek will feature 125 players on Sept. 25.
No. 4, Battle to the end: The four shots that separated Camas and Union on Tuesday may be just a hint of what’s to come in the competitive 4A GSHL season. The teams meet Sept. 19 at Camas Meadows.
No. 5, Look out for Woodland: The Beavers are the 1A league champions and district runners-up. But with four state qualifiers back, Woodland set its sights higher this year.
For team-by-team preseason coaches reports,
see our high school sports blog at: