Joe Highsmith was in a slump.
That is a rare occurrence for the Bellarmine Prep standout, who surged to one of the big names in junior golf nationally last summer.
But after a lesson a couple weeks ago with his swing instructor, Highsmith said everything clicked right back into form.
And it showed Wednesday at the Class 4A state boys championships.
Highsmith closed with his second consecutive 3-under-par 67 at Liberty Lake Golf Course in Spokane to win the 4A title by three strokes.
It also led Bellarmine Prep to its third state team title in a row, edging second-place Gonzaga Prep 107.5-87.5.
Highsmith’s 6-under 134 total defeated hometown threat Jack Plaster, of Gonzaga Prep (70), who finished at 137.
Overnight leader Riley Killip, of Olympia, fell off the leaderboard after his final-round 84. He tied for 17th at 150.
Highsmith was in the final group as Killip, and took the lead for good on the third hole where the Bears’ senior made a double bogey.
And Highsmith essentially sewed up the 4A title with a string of three birdies at Nos. 8-10.
“One I had the lead, I felt if I kept doing what I was doing, I would be OK,” Highsmith said.
He came up short in a greenside bunker in two shots at the eighth hole, a par 5. But hit his third shot close, and sank the 4-foot putt for birdie.
Once he rolled in a 12-footer for birdie at No. 9, his lead expanded to five strokes.
And on the next hole, Highsmith said he hit his best drive of the week, setting up a short wedge approach that he knocked 8 feet from the cup. He made the birdie putt to push his lead to six shots.
After his lesson 10 days ago, Highsmith went over to Spokane and won the inaugural WJGA’s “Players Open” tournament at 8-under.
Highsmith is the first Bellarmine Prep boy to win the 4A title since James Feutz in 2010 at Canyon Lakes in the Tri-Cities.
“This means so much because it’s been a goal to win high school state,” said Highsmith, who recently decommitted from Southern Methodist and is now set to attend Pepperdine. “There have been some great players from here who have not won state. It is super cool to get this done.”
Kentwood’s Nathan Cogswell and Thomas Jefferson’s Sean Yi finished 12 strokes back in a tie for fifth place, alongside defending 4A state champion Carl Underwood of Richland. Bellarmine’s RJ Manke and Enumclaw’s Matt Hodgman were 13 strokes back in a tie for 10th.
In 3A boys, Capital’s Ryan Feyrer finished in a tie for fifth, finishing six strokes back of Fort Vancouver’s Spencer Tibbits (137), who defended his state crown. Peninsula’s Austin Esser finished eighth (146).
MAKE IT EIGHT
Bellarmine Prep coach Mark Bender has led the Lions to uncharted territory for high school girls golf.
They already broke the state record for consecutive titles with their seventh last year, and they cruised on Saturday to their eighth consecutive team championship at MeadowWood in Spokane, scoring 163.75 points (Camas was second with 67.75 points).
And it was Julia Bordeaux, a freshman, leading the charge. She improved by two strokes from Friday’s first round, shooting 73 to vault herself into a tie for third place at 148, finishing six strokes behind 4A state champion Cassie Kim of Davis (141) and one stroke back of Kamiak’s Jane Kim. Bordeaux was tied with Kentwood’s Katelann Soth, who improved by four strokes from Friday with a final-round 72.
Bender coached the Lions to a state title in 2003 before stepping away from the program for four years. He returned in 2008 and then in 2010 began this unparalleled title streak.
Decatur’s Grace Xu finished seventh at 149 and Bellarmine’s Morgan Bentley and Olympia’s Claire Moon tied for ninth (154). The Lions had eight golfers qualify for the final round of state golf.
Central Kitsap’s Brittany Kwon didn’t quite dazzle like she did in Friday’s first round when she shot 66, but her 77 on Saturday was still good enough to give her a four-stroke victory in the 3A state championships at Canyon Lake in Kennewick for back-to-back state titles.
She finished just ahead of Redmond’s Adithi Anand (147). Bethel’s Emma Jonson finished in fourth place (153) and Peninsula’s Riley Bass was 11th (170).
Annie Wright’s Abby Givens finished in third place in the 1A/2B/1A championships at Horn Rapids in Richland, shooting a two-day totaol of 168 to finish 14 strokes back of back-to-back state champion Kaysa Panke of Davenport.