Veterans with the VSS Panthers hope to finish their high school golf careers by going low in the B.C. Secondary Schools Senior AAA Boys Championships starting Tuesday in Nanaimo.
The Panthers qualified for the provincial tournament by placing second in the Okanagan Valley Championships in Penticton. They finished 12th at the B.C. finals in 2017.
Jaden Steinke, Erik Colwell, Braeden Cooper, Elias Wery and Nash Cullum will represent Vernon with parent-volunteer Warren Cullum filling in for coach/teacher Mike Sawaka. Grade 9 Max Lockwood, who played regularly all season, is not making the trip since teams may only field five players. Wery is the lone starter in Grade 11.
“The boys are extremely excited and I know they are trying to get in rounds whenever they can leading up to provincials,” said Sawka. “The team has just recently received tremendous financial support from Vernon Golf & Country Club and Hillview Golf Course to help out with the costs of going to the Island. We are all very appreciative of their support.
“I am excited for these boys, as, for four of them, this will be their last high school tournament. Braeden Cooper and Jaden Steinke have been lights-out golfers for VSS all of their years here and Nash Cullum drastically improved his game over the past year that he is now shooting in the 70s and low 80s. Erik Colwell shot an impressive 79 at the Valley Championships and I am sure he will be looking to turn heads at the provincials as well. Elias Wery has also been a steady golfer for us the past couple years and we will look to his leadership next year along with Max Lockwood.”
Steinke, who is second on the Zone 2 Junior Golf Tour Order of Merit with 258 points through a dozen events, is stoked for the provincials.
“This year, we have a tight group of five guys that have been working hard on the golf course. We are a bit nervous heading into a new course this year but with a practice round on Monday we should get a good feel for the course heading into the tournament.”
Cooper, who is eighth on the Junior Tour with 200 points (he missed one tournament), will play university golf for the Minot State Beavers (Idaho) on a scholarship next year.
“We are all very excited,” said Cooper. “For four of us, this is our last year and we are certainly looking to make it a memorable one. As far as nerves go, I think it’s safe to say we will all have some first-tee nerves but that is all part of it. With the practice round Monday, we can all get a good look at a course that none of us have seen before, and get a feel for our yardages which will be different due to elevation.
“A top-five finish would be great and we are all definitely capable of it but I don’t think a top-10 finish will break any hearts. As for myself, individually, I am hoping to put myself into a position after the first day to contend and make my final high school round one to remember.”
The provincials are a 36-hole tournament at the Nanaimo Golf & Country Club.
Steinke and Cooper will be shooting for birdies at the Zone 2 Tour championships, June 9-10, at Gallagher’s Canyon in Kelowna.
Steinke took second low gross with a 77 at Talking Rock (Sorrento) and Eagle Point (Kamloops) with a 79 last weekend.
Ryan Vest of Vernon (Predator Ridge) took the Bantam 14 and Under category low gross at Talking Rock with a 74 and finished second at Eagle Point with a 79.
Will Lockwood of Vernon was the 14 and Under low gross champion at Eagle Point with 78. Braxton McDonald of Vernon took the Bantam low net with 73 at Eagle Point and was second low net at 73 at Talking Rock.
Jackson Coates of Penticton won the Talking Rock stop with 73, while Declan Riddle of Summerland won Eagle Point with 70.