BY JACKSON WAGNER
Caleb Stetzner spent this week in Bozeman participating in a pair of junior golf qualifying tournaments. His week began on Monday at Riverside Country Club as he participated in the Montana State Junior Championship. The qualifier in Bozeman was one of five district qualifiers. Stetzner, who placed at the state event last season, had already qualified for the state tournament this season. Still, tournament golf is a great experience for even the most seasoned golfers.
Stetzner, who will be a senior at Anaconda High next season as the school transitions to Class B, started off hot Monday morning, posting a front-nine score of 34. He took advantage of stellar driver play during the calm morning hours, but when afternoon winds came in he lost some strokes off the tee box.
“I was hitting a little draw and I was comfortable with it all day,” Stetzner said. “On the front nine I shot 34, and I was comfortable on the back nine, but the wind picked up and I started swinging a little harder and I lost control of it a little bit.”
His back nine struggles, which included a triple-bogey and a pair of double-bogeys, led to a final score of 77, good enough for second place. The finish would have qualified him for the state tournament, which will be held June 23-24 at Polson Bay GC, had he not already been guaranteed his spot.
Tuesday was an off-day for Stetzner, as he shifted his focus to a practice round at Bridger Creek Golf Course in preparation for the Big I tournament held Wednesday and Thursday. Once again, Stetzner played the first half of the tournament in stellar form, posting an impressive round of 69. The score was the lowest of the day, and was pulled off thanks to great ball striking with his irons and good saves around the greens.
“My driver was fine, but mainly my irons were really solid and I was rolling in a lot of putts,” Stetzner said. “I got up and down when I was missing the greens so that helps.”
Stetzner, the defending Montana State A Champion, didn’t lack confidence as he entered the second day of the competition. After some uncertainty on the range, he did what has become a signature of his game: birdie his first hole.
“On the driving range I struggled a little bit, but once I got on the first tee I hit my driver right down the middle and I was confident after that,” Stetzner said. “I birdied the first hole both days, and I was three-under through five today, so I was pretty comfortable out there.”
The quick start, doubled with the fact that he started off with the lead, forced Stetzner to become more passive on the course, a fact he may now regret. Instead of going pin hunting, he attempted to hit the middle of the greens and make pars.
“I think I just took my foot off the pedal and relaxed a little bit,” Stetzner said. “I wasn’t as aggressive and just thought that I needed to make par instead of saying go make birdie.”
He dropped four strokes over the next 13 holes, finishing the final round with a 73. His two day total of 142 put him in fourth place overall, two slots out of a trip to nationals. Ryggs Johnston of Libby claimed medalist honors with a score of 138, including a 67 on the final day. Billings’ Sean Benson will be the other representative from Montana. Benson’s two day total of 140 edged out Joey Moore, also of Billings.
Stetzner’s busy summer continues next week at the Montana State Junior Championship & Callaway Junior World Qualifier. The two-day tournament will help decide Montana’s representatives at the Callaway Junior World Championship, the Montana-Alberta Cup and the Junior America’s Cup. Stetzner qualified all three events last year, and will surely be looking to duplicate his success next week in Polson.
Wagner is an Anaconda native and sophomore studying print journalism at University of Montana. He’s the deputy sports editor of the Montana Kaimin student newspaper at UM and also a beat reporter for gogriz.com .