Heavy controversy, goose-bump drama, fantastic golf and a few never-to-be-forgotten lessons on the rules.
The Class 4A state golf tournament had a little of everything Tuesday that will make it one of the most memorable ever. When the dust had settled the Orem Tigers were standing on Old Mill's No. 1 green celebrating their first state golf crown in more than a decade. The Region 7 champions outdueled the Region 5 champion Bountiful Braves in one hole of sudden death.
Tied at 603 after 36 holes, four players from each team teed off on the first hole with all four scores counting. Orem's Conlin Gull and Ryan Phillips both sank lengthy birdie putts, Zack Stratton rolled in a nice par putt and Dan Reid bogeyed. The Braves, however, had to settle with a birdie from Henry Poulton, a par from Tanner Taft, a bogey from Chris Jepsen and a triple-bogey from Christian Ivins — who pulled his extra-hole drive into the long grass left and struggled to advance the ball from there.
"My seniors came through," Orem coach Steve Downey said. "All year long our guys have been a team. They help each other, they pull for each other and everyone contributes."
However, the playoff didn't happen until a nearly two-hour rules decision moved the East Leopards from first place in the standings to fifth place. When scores were first posted, the Leopards were a stroke ahead of both Orem and Bountiful and appeared to have won their fourth straight state crown. But three golfers who played with East's Brooke Stewart, one each from Bountiful, Orem and Spanish Fork, questioned her score of 78. They felt Stewart took a penalty drop on the 11th hole and should have had one additional stroke.
After much discussion with all four players in the group and the coaches, and even a trip to the spot on the course in question, the rules officials decided Stewart took an illegal drop on the hole and should have been assessed a penalty. She was ultimately disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, which meant the Leopards had to count an 84 instead of her posted 78.
East's players and coach Scott Bringhurst were clearly upset and disappointed in the ruling — some calling it sour grapes by the other teams. The bitter Leopards also felt the other teams' protest came too late. Most were biting their lips and few wanted to say much about the ruling.
"It was a tough call," was all that Downey would say on the subject.
Tournament officials were clearly in a no-win situation. They didn't want to embarrass any players or challenge anyone's personal integrity, but they also wanted the outcome to be in compliance with the rules of golf. Scott Whittaker, executive director of the Utah Section of the PGA and chief official of the event, said the infraction was not intentional, but simply a misunderstanding of the rules.
"This certainly has not been easy," Whittaker said after announcing the final ruling.
Orem finished tied with Bountiful thanks to Conlin Gull's final-round 69 and a 72 from Reid, with Stratton chipping in a 79 and Davis Gull an 81. The Braves had more balanced second-day scoring, with Jepsen and Poulton shooting 75 and Taft and Trevor Wortley firing 76.
Region 6's Spanish Fork and Springville finished tied for third at 606, three shots behind. The Red Devils had all six players shoot in the 70s, with freshman Clark Fredricksen's final-round 72 leading the way. Seniors Mason Casper and Tyler Weight shot 76. The Dons posted a 74 from Broden Hughes and a 76 each from Curtis Gallegos, Scott Whitaker and Ryan Eddington.
Lone Peak finished in sixth at 612 and Box Elder was in seventh at 616.
The West Panthers, despite a blistering 8-under par 63 from sophomore Tony Finau on Tuesday, finished 19 shots back at 622. Finau finished the 36-hole event at 7-under par, to win medalist honors by six shots over East's Jeff Hale and eight shots ahead of Box Elder's Brandon Broadhead and Orem's Conlin Gull. Troy Owen of Woods Cross finished fifth at 3-over par, a shot ahead of Fredricksen of Springville and Dan Heath of Sky View.
"I don't think there was too much more I could have done today," Finau said of his spectacular play.
He started the day three shots behind his brother, West freshman Gipper Finau, but wasted no time in catching and surpassing his younger sibling. While Gipper struggled early, Tony rolled in two quick birdies and then ran off a stretch of five straight midway through his round. His only bogey came on the par-3 12th, where he spun an iron shot off the green into the water. His chip for par lipped the cup.
"(Gipper) had bragging rights all night, but I told him that he better play good (Tuesday) because I was going low. And I went pretty low," Tony Finau said.
Gipper Finau fired a closing-round 77, but was disqualified for signing a scorecard that had his score listed as 73.