For 14 years, Justin Watson has lived in a house just off the sixth hole at Springs Ranch Golf Course. On Tuesday the Sand Creek senior capitalized on what is literally a home-course advantage – as well as channeling Rory McIlroy and Tim Tebow – as he shot 70 for his second victory through three of the five events in the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference’s inaugural season.
“It’s amazing,” said Watson, who held off Cheyenne Mountain’s Wilson Belk to win the event by two strokes. “I haven’t been able to stop smiling for the past hour or so.
“I’ve grown up here. It’s home.”
Watson can settle back into his home atop the league standings, a perch he claimed by winning the season’s first event by one stroke over Belk with a 73. Watson followed that opening performance with a disappointing 85 Friday at an event hosted by Air Academy.
Fortunately for Watson, the league format allows golfers to drop their worst score, so the 85 will be erased as long as he avoids a higher number.
“After the 85, I kind of felt like Tim Tebow his junior year when he lost to Ole Miss,” Watson said. “My goal coming into this season was to shoot 70s all year – mid to low 70s. Shooting an 85 at Air Academy made me feel like, ‘Golly, I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity coming in with a lead.' I wanted to bounce back, work hard and make sure something like that never happens again.”
Yes, Watson said “golly.” He also owns his own lawn mowing business, wears the Christian fish symbol on his belt buckle – “God has blessed me abundantly,” he said – and doesn’t hold a membership at a golf course. He’s not your typical elite high school golfer, but then, even his style isn’t really his own.
“My favorite golfer is Rory McIlroy,” Watson said. “I’ve followed his style, the way he carries himself on the golf course, his putting stroke, swing … everything. I’ve tried to mimic off of his style. He’s just really been an inspiration to me to be mellow on the golf course but still play amazing golf.”
If Watson is playing amazing golf, Belk is just a slight tick below – call it amazingly consistent golf. The Cheyenne Mountain sophomore has posted scores of 74, 77 and 72 in the league, technically giving him the lead before figuring the dropped high score.
The Indians as a whole continue to be strikingly consistent and deep. Their team score of 221 Tuesday was 16 better than runner-up Vista Ridge and expanded their lead to 68 with two rounds remaining.
In addition to Belk’s 72, Cole Anderson shot 74 and Alex Freimuth fired a 75 for Cheyenne Mountain.
How good are the Indians? Consider that Dan Belk’s 76 would have been the top score for 12 of the other 15 teams in Tuesday’s field – and his was Cheyenne Mountain’s throw-away No. 4 score.
No wonder the rest of the field has resigned itself to playing for second. Vista Ridge, however, is happy to be in that race.
The Wolves finished ninth last year in the 4A Metro – which has split into two eight-team leagues. Among current Pikes Peak Athletic Conference teams, only Falcon was below Vista Ridge last year. The Wolves topped Air Academy by one stroke Tuesday to build an eight-stroke advantage over the Kadets for second place.
Yes, it’s a season of turnarounds, and it starts on top of the individual leader board.
“After I won the first tournament I was thinking this is the position I want to be in,” said Watson, who tied for seventh in the league last year. “I don’t want to be chasing guys. I want to be leading the pack.”
So far, so good.
70 – Justin Watson, Sand Creek
72 – Wilson Belk, Cheyenne Mountain
74 – Cole Anderson, Cheyenne Mountain
75 – Alex Freimuth, Cheyenne Mountain
75 – Dylan Hall, Vista Ridge
75 – John Rockwell, Air Academy
76 – Dan Belk, Cheyenne Mountain
76 – Jacob Trujillo, Discovery Cnayon
77 – Braden Bentley, Mesa Ridge
79 – Steve Pattee, Fountain-Fort Carson
79 – Dean Hall, Vista Ridge
237 – Vista Ridge
238 – Air Academy
249 – Discovery Canyon
249 – Coronado
PIKES PEAK ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Team standings (through three of five events)
679 – Cheyenne Mountain
747 – Vista Ridge
755 – Air Academy
786 – Sand Creek
790 – Palmer Ridge
831 – Lewis-Palmer
848 – Falcon
n/a – Discovery Canyon (missed a tournament)