When Caden Arnold stepped up to the 18th green on the second day of the state tournament last spring at The Creek at Qualchan golf course in Spokane, he was feeling pretty good.
Arnold had just landed an uphill shot to get onto the green in two shots and was looking at a 20-foot downhill put for eagle. In his final putt of the competition, Arnold sunk it, scoring a two-day low 145 for Gig Harbor High School.
“It was crazy,” Arnold said. “I kind of blacked out for a minute when I made that putt. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Arnold was the low-scorer in the competition for the Tides, who won the Class 3A title last spring. Griffin McCauley, who transferred to Gig Harbor from Eastlake, fired a 146 and Sean Vaovasa shot 147 and Jaydon Raquiza shot 155 (78, 77). Branden McGinnis shot an 83 on the first day, just missing the cut.
The good news for Gig Harbor? They’re all back this year. Arnold and McGinnis are juniors, while Vaovasa, McCauley and Raquiza are seniors.
“I’m pretty excited to have everyone back and make another run at it this year,” Arnold said. “I’m not expecting anything big like we did last year, we’re all just trying to put up the best score that we can to give ourselves the best shot at winning.”
Gig Harbor knew it might have a special team last year when they learned McCauley was transferring in to the school.
“I started playing with them in late August,” McCauley said. “We’d get a few rounds in and we were all shooting around par. So I knew if we could do that in tournaments, we’d have a good chance. When you have four or five solid players who are shooting close to each other, you have a pretty good shot at winning the title.”
Billy Landram, the team’s coach and also the school’s boys basketball coach, said it’s an easy group to coach.
“They’re really good at golf,” Landram said. “A lot of them have been playing for a long time. We put a lot of time into it but most of them will go practice more at their own course or wherever they play the most. They’re really earning it.”
With Landram not having to motivate the golfers constantly or teach the basics of golf, it frees him up to focus on the finer details of the game.
“Instead of things like swing mechanics, you’re more focused on course management, where is the least risk with the most reward, where’s the pin on the green, stuff like that,” Landram said. “The kids are good enough to play the courses. They’ve been playing competitively for so long.”
Of the four Gig Harbor golfers who made the cut at the state competition last spring, all of them shot the same, or lower, than they did in day one.
“We played well under pressure,” McCauley said. “We kept it going the second round. We had the lead after the first day and kept it going. Winning state was our goal the whole year. We weren’t holding back. We were ready to get a ring. So just making sure we connected two rounds together, improved our scores and gave ourselves a good chance.”
With everyone back in the fold, repeating as state champions is the clear goal. Everett, last year’s runner-up, also returns the bulk of its state roster, and will be tough competition.
“I think it’s just guys playing consistent, not having any big mistakes, not blowing up on certain holes and then just making the rest of the round go poorly,” Arnold said. “I think it’s just consistency, as well as making the cut.”
McCauley said the team’s golfers are trying to compete with themselves at practice every day to push each other.
“I think we’re going to be even a little better this year,” McCauley said. “We have to stay focused, we can’t take anything for granted. Just because we won state last year doesn’t mean anything. So just making sure we’re practicing, working on our short game, staying on track. One match at a time.”
There’s a sort of quiet confidence to Gig Harbor’s team. None of the players are particularly outwardly loud or arrogant. But they’re not short on confidence, either.
“They’ve loosened up over the years,” Landram said. “They’re quiet guys, for the most part. Over the years, they’ve gotten to know each other. There’s a little more joking around. They’re competitive. You’ve got those top guys who can really beat each other on any given day.”