Senior Blake Kahlbaugh of Mahnomen/Waubun entered his final round of high school golf Wednesday with a chance to win a state championship but would need his short game to come through in a big way.
Luckily, it was the strongest part of his game through his final 18 holes at Pebble Creek Golf Course in Becker. The senior shot a 70 to finish with a combined score of 138, 11 shots ahead of his closest competitors.
“I’ve never had this happen so I’m glad it happened to me now” Kahlbaugh said.
His team, Mahnomen/Waubun, finished in second place behind state champions Mounds Park Academy, to whom Kahlbaugh gave much credit. Mounds Park was led by Dylan Merchant, who finished in a tie for second behind Kahlbaugh at 149, along with Brady Madsen of Maccray.
“Mounds Park Academy is a great team, very strong,” Kahlbaugh said, but added, “I’m proud of our team.”
“We finished second last year and another second place this year is just awesome,” he said. “Hopefully they can keep it going through the years.”
With many players tied atop the leaderboard, Kahlbaugh ran away from the field with his 138.
“I didn’t really realize it until a few holes left and then I started getting nervous” he said.
His overriding emotion, however, was pegged to going out on top.
“It couldn’t have ended any better, I’m just so happy,” he said.
In the Class 1A girls’ tournament, after Fillmore Central won the Class 1A team title, coaches smiled, parents gushed, celebratory pictures were taken. It was the first team state championship in school history.
But for junior Kiera Smith of Heritage Christian Academy, who defended her individual state championship title, the fanfare didn’t seem so overwhelming. She shot a 76 Wednesday for a two-round total of 156, one shot ahead of sophomore Sophie Gray of Legacy Christian Academy.
“I’ve been here before but it was a totally different experience,” she said. “There’s people following you instead of trying to beat somebody else.”
For Smith, the biggest difference this time was focusing on herself.
“Even if I shot worse than last year, I have to be satisfied with my round,” she said.