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Uintah 'kids' are champs

Judge Memorial golfer Andrew Etzel watches a shot during his championship-clinching round Thursday. He won with a 148.
Judge Memorial golfer Andrew Etzel watches a shot during his championship-clinching round Thursday. He won with a 148.
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

The boys from Vernal were indeed happy, celebrating with high fives, back slapping, hugs and all around giddiness after Uintah walked off the golf course with the first-place trophy at the 3A state championship at Soldier Hollow.

Lest anyone think they were acting like kids, well, they were. Not a senior in the bunch. Led by freshman Alex Baldridge and sophomore Stratton Shultz, the "kids" sent coach Kent McCurdy happily into retirement.

"This is my last year," McCurdy said. "I have had three seconds but never a first."

Despite pleas from his team, he is not coming back. But a grateful Chase Hanberg said, "We couldn't have done this without him."

McCurdy said his team lost to Park City in every meet this year. Perhaps the youngsters finally matured, but he attributes the win to their inner mettle.

"These are hard-core kids," he said. "When the weather's bad (the windy conditions), they came through."

Park City finished two strokes back. Sam Bell led the Miners with a 161.

"I told the kids I'm proud of them," said coach Tim Jeffrey said. "We didn't lose it, they just played better."

Region 8 champion Carbon claimed third place, led by Jason Child with a 157 and Shayne Burke with a 158.

In the individual medalist race, Andrew Etzel shot a 76 to go with his first round 72. That 148 held off a couple of single challengers, Kyle Hill from Delta and McLayne Eldredge of Union, who posted a 151 and 153, respectively.

Etzel's 148 lifted Judge Memorial to a fourth-place finish.

This was the senior's first win ever and when he made the turn at two over things looked to be in hand. After birdieing the 10th hole, his putts no longer seemed to drop. At the par five 12th his 20 foot birdie putt just slid by the hole. And his round went downhill from there. He bogeyed the 13th double bogeyed the 14th and bogeyed the 15th and suddenly he looked vulnerable at five over. But he regained his composure and came in with a par birdie par. As he dragged his bag off the 18th green he said, "It was a struggle." But he added, "I am proud of myself for making that comeback after the bad stretch." And right he was. He could have easily imploded and Hill was breathing down his neck closing with the best round of the day, a 73.

"He reached down deep and found the confidence he needed to win," said Judge coach Jim Beisel. "He found the toughness to persevere."

Playing in the same threesome as Etzel was Logan's Arman Ben-Jacob. He tied for 10th at 160. Maybe not a dazzling performance, but this kid is only 13 years of age, not to be 14 until next June. On the par five 17th he stuck his second shot three feet from the pin and recorded an eagle. Look for him next year.

As for Hill, he knew he started the day too far behind — six strokes — and he was happy with his round.

"I got off to a great start," he said. "I birdied the first two holes."