BILLINGS — Most golfers would feel good about a first-round score of 73 and a lead of four-plus strokes with 18 holes to play. For Carrie Carpenter, those numbers carry some baggage.
In September at Butte Country Club, Carpenter shot a 73 in the first round of the Class AA state girls tournament and was four strokes clear of second place. Bozeman’s Anna Danenhauer, who shot an opening-round 78, caught Carpenter on the second day. Carpenter, then a junior at Billings West, had a short putt on the 18th hole to force a tie. She missed it, finishing with a final-round 82 and a painful stroke short of her first state title.
On Monday at Lake Hills Golf Club, Carpenter opened the MSGA State Junior Championships with a round of 1-over 73 — five strokes ahead of second place with Danenhauer once again in third. This time, Carpenter came through.
Another 82 would have gotten it done, but Carpenter didn’t mess around. She shot 76 in round two and finished eight strokes ahead of second-place Laurel Ward of Bozeman for the first overall State Junior title of her career.
“The AA state tournament was still kind of fresh in my mind,” Carpenter said. “It was tough, but I think the next day I was out on the driving range, trying to get better.”
Tuesday’s triumph gave Carpenter her third and fourth State Junior plaques. She previously won the 13-and-under and the 14-15 age groups. In addition to the overall title, Carpenter topped the 16-18 age group at Lake Hills.
“One thing I did really well this week was forgetting the bad shots,” Carpenter said. “Having confidence in every shot that I hit. Not worrying about what my score was or how the hole was going to turn out. Just thinking about one shot at a time and believing in myself.”
Forty-one total golfers competed in the girls field this week. Not one of the other 40 posted a better round than either of Carpenter’s. Danenhauer and Bozeman teammate Cora Rosanova came close with final-round 77s, but they finished 11 and 19 strokes, respectively, behind Carpenter.
Carpenter, Ward, Danenhauer and Rosanova qualified for the America’s Cup.
The State Junior title is little consolation for the near-miss last fall, but it gives Carpenter confidence that she can break through in October at Meadowlark Country Club in Great Falls.
“It makes you definitely want to get better,” she said of September’s loss, “so that the next year you don’t lose by one. You can win by five.”
Verge punches up again
Freshmen don’t usually win state tournaments, and 15-year-olds don’t often contend for overall titles at the State Junior Championships. Justus Verge is ahead of his time.
The incoming Bozeman sophomore followed up a 1-over 73 on Monday with a 1-under 71 in Tuesday’s final round. He finished tied with Butte senior-to-be Kaven Noctor for the overall lead but won the State Junior boys title via a tiebreaker.
“My putting was a little off. I’m happy to shoot the scores that I did without really any putting,” Verge said. “I stayed out of trouble, and when I did miss, I missed in the right spots.”
Verge won the 2018 State AA boys championship by six strokes over his twin brother, Jordan. He topped Jordan, who shot an 83 and 67, by six strokes again in the 14-15 age group at the State Junior Championships, and the only peer who came close to Verge was Great Falls’ Eli Groshelle (74-76).
Because he was in a lower age group, and without access to a live leaderboard, Verge played Tuesday’s round without knowing where he sat in the overall standings. Considering five golfers finished within five strokes of the boys lead, he knew every stroke counted.
Verge began his final round with a par despite reaching the par-5 10th green in two shots. He couldn’t afford another three-putt on the ninth green — he putted twice for a birdie.
Verge and Noctor both shot 73 on the first day and 71 on the second. Luckily for Verge, his back nine on Tuesday was better than Noctor’s, and back nine score was the title tiebreaker.
“I’m very blessed,” Verge said.
This was nearly Verge’s second straight State Junior overall title. Last year at Polson Bay Golf Course, he lost by one stroke to Billings West graduate and San Diego State signee Joey Moore, who eagled the final hole.
The boys America’s Cup qualifiers were Verge, Noctor, Bozeman incoming senior J.R. Small (72-73) and Big Timber grad/Montana State Billings signee Blake Finn (74-74).
Hackmann posts personal best
While Verge and Noctor tied for first place in the overall race, Cameron Hackmann of Laurel finished with the best score of the tournament.
Hackmann rebounded from a first-round 5-over 77 with a 6-under 66 on Tuesday. The 12-year-old won the 13-and-under boys division by eight strokes and was the only golfer who finished under par for the tournament (1-under, one stroke better than Verge and Noctor).
“I just stayed in the moment, hit each shot as best as I could,” Hackmann said.
The 13-and-under competitors played forward front tee boxes at Lake Hills and weren’t eligible for the overall title. Hackmann was hardly disappointed. Tuesday’s 66 topped his previous-best 18-hole score by three strokes. He recorded seven birdies and one bogey.
After his first-round 77, Hackmann received a pep talk from his cousin Paul O’Neil, a Laurel outgoing senior bound for MSUB, who finished tied for fifth in the 16-18 age group.
“He said, ‘You’re the best player out of all these guys. Just play,’ ” Hackmann said.
Volk drains hole-in-one
The lone hole-in-one of the State Junior tournament came from Sidney’s Karly Volk, who competed in the 14-15 age group.
Volk recorded her ace, the first of her life, on the 153-yard fourth hole on Tuesday. She hit a five-hybrid and initially thought her shot flew over the green and hit a tree, based on the sound she heard. The noise was of the ball hitting the flag stick, her playing partners told her, but Volk didn’t know it was a hole-in-one for sure until she reached the hole.
“When I got up there, I don’t know, I was just excited, really just happy that I finally got that,” she said. “It was probably my best swing of the day.”
Volk finished the round at 27-over 99 and shot over par on each of the 17 other holes. She carded a 96 on Monday.