The Valley high school golf runner-up VSS Panthers, from left, coach Mike Sawka, Jaden Steinke, Erik Colwell, Braeden Cooper, Elias Wery, Max Lockwood, Nash Cullum. (Photo Submitted)

Panthers earn provincial golf berth

Cooper closes with clutch 76 at Valleys in Penticton

With everybody else punching numbers on their cell phone calculators inside the Penticton Golf and Country Club Tuesday, Braeden Cooper of the VSS Panthers was trying to grind out a decent score on the flat, water-filled course.

And with just two provincial berths available from the Okanagan Valley High School Golf Championships, the Kelowna Owls were especially eager to see how Cooper finished.

The host Pen-Hi Lakers came in with a team total (count four of five best scores) 306 for a comfortable victory and spot in the B.C. finals, June 4-6, in Nanaimo. The battle for the second berth was between VSS and Kelowna.

“We quickly figured out that Braeden needed a 77 to tie KSS,” said Panther head coach Mike Sawka. “Anything less we would advance, anything more, KSS would advance. If he came in at a 77 we would have to play a playoff hole against KSS. Braeden had no idea as he approached 18 that the second berth to provincials was on the line.

“He had been disappointed with his game in a few areas and had heard from other guys on the team that they too were also disappointed in their scores. Braeden’s shot off the par-5 18th went in the water. His second shot was the drop ball and his third and fourth shots were monster shots that left him with a tap-in for par. Braden’s final score was a 76, qualifying us by one stroke.”

Cooper, a Grade 12 student who has a golf scholarship to Minot State Beavers on Idaho for next fall, said he smacked a five-iron 202 yards with his third shot.

“I figured it was going to be between KSS, Penticton and us,” said Cooper, 17. “We’ve got a pretty good group, our strongest so far (since his Grade 8 season). We didn’t have our best day yesterday, but we’re capable of doing a lot better.”

Erik Colwell shot an impressive 79 as the fifth-ranked player on the Panthers. Elias Wery (No. 4) and Nash Cullum (No. 3) both carded 89s, while No. 2 Jaden Steinke produced a 78.

Max Lockwood and Grade 9 sensation Nash Cullum rounded out the VSS lineup. Lockwood was the Cats’ sixth player so his round would only count as an exhibition. He shot a stellar 79.

VSS has qualified for provincials the last three years in a row.

Meanwhile, Cooper lost a one-hole playoff to Ethan Hunt of Kelowna in the Zone 2 Junior Tour stop Saturday at the Vernon Golf & Country Club.

Both players posted 72 with Hunt taking the playoff with a par-4 on the No. 1 hole. Cooper chunked his approach shot and scored a bogey. Cooper took the low net overall title at 70.

“I’ve pretty much been playing consistent tee to green but I just can’t count on my putter,” said Cooper.

Steinke was the A Flight (17-18 years) winner with a 76, while Austin Armanini of Vernon took the C Flight (14 and under) low gross with a 76.

The Tour stopped at the Shuswap National on Mother’s Day with Justin Towhill capturing low gross with a 72, two strokes better than Cooper. Steinke fired a 78.

Ryan Vest of Predator Ridge finished third low gross in the C Flight with a 71. Jaden Snitynsky of Predator took low net at 63.

The Tour resumes Saturday, May 26 at Eagle Point in Kamloops.

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