Steve Hamilton’s coaching counsel after a bad golf shot is clear and consistent: don’t get mad, stay in the moment, focus only on the next one.
Easier said than done, for any golfer, and harder for some of his Capital High School players than others.
But Hamilton, who is in Spokane with four Cougars this week at the state Class 3A boys tournament at The Creek at Qualchan, knows they’re listening.
A case in point is Eric Hagen, the Cougars’ No. 1 player and individual champion at the 3A Narrows League tournament last week, who transferred from Aberdeen for his senior year.
On Sunday, as he rode toward Spokane with Hamilton and the other Cougar state qualifiers — Gabe Barnes, Eli Simpson and Travis Bossio — Hagen said the mental game wasn’t something he thought much about at Aberdeen.
“Coach Hamilton has been instrumental in integrating that into my golf game,” Hagen said. “It’s been a game-changer, quite frankly.”
Hamilton said Hagen has all the shots — an impressive striker of the ball who works hard on his short game — and yet his greatest strength is his attitude.
“He doesn’t get too down on himself,” Hamilton said. “He doesn’t do the typical teenage thing and get angry. He’s so laid back, so not worried about things.”
Hagen shot 73-72 at the Narrows tournament at Lake Spanaway Golf Course to win the title by four strokes and lead the Cougars to a fourth straight Narrows 3A team championship.
“I didn’t feel like I played really well,” said Hagen, who will play on scholarship at the University of Denver next year. “I felt like I managed the course really well.”
As good as Hagen is mentally, Hamilton said, his junior teammate Barnes is even better.
“As a freshman I saw him make a nine on a hole — it didn’t faze him,” Hamilton said. “His mental approach to the game is above most kids. He just has a very strong will about him to play it well.”
Barnes shot 76-76 at the Narrows tournament, though he admits he was distracted by recent testing in the International Baccalaureate program at school.
“Our team does a good job of keeping our mind on what we have to do,” Barnes said.
“Eric and Gabe should contend for the top five if they play the way they’re capable,” Hamilton said.
Simpson, a junior, was extremely raw when he started as a freshman, and he has come the furthest of the group, Hamilton said. He shot 81-76 at the Narrows tournament.
Bossio, a sophomore, used to think of himself as a basketball player first and a golfer second, but says now that’s flipped around. He shot 86 on the first day at Spanaway before regrouping with a 74 the next day to get into a playoff — which he won — for the sixth and final state slot.
Hamilton said players who make it to state deserve a quality experience, so he does things to make it special — such as playing the tournament course a couple times (which the Cougars did Sunday and Monday) and compiling a yardage book for each player.
Hamilton wants this team-oriented team to have fun while making the trip.
That, too, is a message his guys seem to be heeding.
“I have some expectations to play well,” Barnes said. “I’m trying not to worry about it too much, and just have fun with the team.”
Said Simpson, “Add it up at the end.”
WIAA State Boys and Girls Golf Championships
When: Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Class 4A—Boys at Meadow Springs CC, Richland; Girls at Sun Willows GC, Pasco; Class 3A—Boys at Creek at Qualchan GC, Spokane; Girls at Indian Canyon GC, Spokane; Class 2A—Boys at Horn Rapids GC, Richland; Girls at Columbia Point, Richland; Class 1A—Boys and girls at Liberty Lake GC, Spokane; Class 1B/2B—Boys and girls at MeadowWood GC, Spokane
Tee times: Tuesday—First round is from 7:30-10:30 a.m., except for 1A girls (11:40 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) and 1B/2B girls (9:45 a.m.-11:10 a.m.). Wednesday—Final round based on cut numbers at discretion of the host site.
2015 boys team champions: 4A, Bellarmine Prep; 3A, Bainbridge; 2A, Sammamish; 1A, Seattle Academy; 1B/2B, Colfax.
2015 girls team champions: 4A, Bellarmine Prep; 3A, Mercer Island; 2A, Ephrata; 1A, King’s; 1B/2B, Pomeroy.
Returning individual champions: 4A boys, Zach Overstreet, Issaquah, sr.; 3A boys, Sam Warkentin, Bainbridge, sr.; 2A girls, Kenedee Peters, Ephrata, so.; 1A boys, Nick Baker, Cle Elum/Roslyn, jr.
The skinny: Boys—Olympia’s Riley Killip is the reigning 4A Narrows League winner. He set the tournament scoring mark with a 12-under par 132. He’s joined by teammates Cameron McCauley, Connor McCauley and Cole Eich. … Capital’s Eric Hagen — a transfer from Aberdeen — and teammates Gabe Barnes, Eli Simpson and Travis Bossio will represent the 3A Narrows champions. Shelton’s Tim Nail and Ethan Pentony also advanced. … Eight golfers from the 2A EvCo will compete: two from Black Hills (Ryan Ziebart and Blake Fullington), two from Tumwater (Dylan Christoffer and Jordan Baird) and two from W.F. West (Will Alexander and Hayden Dobyns). Centralia’s Deter Voetberg and Rochester’s Brock Hawes also advanced. … Trace Thompson from Elma was the only 1A golfer to qualify.
Girls—Capital’s Mica Livingston was a second-day qualifier last year, and took 21st in the 3A tournament. … Claire Moon and Emma Tranum will represent Olympia in the 4A tournament. … The 2A EvCo has seven entrants – Black Hills’ Elle Hirotaka and Emma Darling; Centralia’s Julie Mettle; Tumwater’s Kenzie Campbell; and W.F. West’s Kate Balmelli, Carly Noble and Delanie Calkins.
Tickets: Admission is free.