TUMWATER — Blake Kukula won his third consecutive 1B/2B State golf championship, shooting 73-71 on May 21-22 at Tumwater Valley Golf Course to win by six strokes.
Gabby Bell reached day two of the State girls’ tournament at the same course. She hit the cut line of 96 to tie for 38th after Tuesday, then slipped to 102 on Wednesday. Faith Richardson shot 107 on Tuesday. Tenyson Ramsey, the alternate coming out of Districts, unexpectedly got to play and shot 105.
Crosspoint’s Ethan Heydel and Alex Weirth were both within two strokes of the Kukula at the end of play Tuesday. Tyler St. Onge of Wahkiakum and Bennett Gray of Colfax were each within three of Kukula at that point, with Davenport’s Kristof Panke four back.
Kukula pulled away a bit on Wednesday, shooting 71. Heydel replicated his first day score with a 75, finishing second. Panke took third at 152, Gray fourth at 153. Weirth missed several putts on the back nine and fell to fifth at 156.
Kukula, meticulous about every detail of his game, found slight adjustments to make after the first day.
“Day one I just wasn’t hitting any birdie putts,” Kukula said. “I hit 14 greens, meaning I was putting for birdie on 14 greens. I was getting good speed on my putts, hitting them near the hole, so it was still easy to get par.”
Kukula always estimates the direction his putts will roll and compensates with his swing, but said the ball rolls less at Tumwater than at most courses. As a result, “I was overreading my putts. So me and Dad (Jon) spent upwards of an hour and a half afterward trying to read the green and figure out the exact way the ball would go. My putting was a lot better the second day.”
But Kukula’s only major mishap on the opening day came on hole 18, and even then he mitigated the damage. The fairway on the par-five hole takes a major bend to the left, but all along the left of the fairway there is a hazard, a ditch that drops into a creek. Kukula’s plan was to exploit his driving distance to get past the bend, thereby bypassing angling difficulties. But he wanted his shot to start left and curve back toward the middle. Instead, he pulled his shot into the water.
“At that point, I thought I could still save par, because it’s a short par-five,” he said. “I wanted to hit it over the trees instead of around the curve.”
So instead of playing the ball where it went out, he played it from behind the hazard. “I took my eight-iron and hit it over the trees, and gave myself a chance for par.” Just as Kukula had repeatedly gotten close with tough birdie putts, he got near the hole with a ten-foot par putt, then settled for bogey on the day’s final hole.
On day two, Kukula parred the first four holes, overcoming a short tee shot on hole four with a brilliant chip to within three feet of the hole. On five at Tumwater, Kukula takes a roundabout approach.
“There’s a dogleg [bend] to the left, and the hole gives you no room to the right, but the left side is blocked by trees,” he said. “There’s just this one small spot you have to hit if you’re going to make it onto the green with your second shot, and that’s hard to do. But I’ve played the course enough that I’ve figured out to cut onto the sixth hole. I took my tee way left, playing it onto the other fairway. It cuts about 50 yards off the hole.”
That worked on Tuesday, as he got a par (five) on the hole.
On hole five, Kukula landed his second shot in front of a sand trap but was unfazed, following with another outstanding chip. However, he three-putted to settle for a bogey.
But Kukula came back on hole six, getting his fairway shot right near the hole and making the birdie putt to get back to par on the day. On hole nine, he got to one under on the day, getting a perfect roll on a birdie putt.
Kukula hit a sand trap on twelve, then got it out of the sand but right in front of the next trap, while his competitors in his group were already on the green. But he salvaged the situation, chipping directly behind the hole and making a long putt for par.
After another bogey on 13, he hammered his fairway shot over trees to set up a birdie on 14.
After his adventurous hole 18 on Tuesday, Kukula landed his tee shot just where he wanted it on Wednesday, well around the bend and in the middle. He reached the fringe of the fairway with his second shot, got within a few feet with his third and sank the birdie putt to close out the victory.
Bell shot a 45 on the front nine on her way to a 96 on Tuesday. On the first few holes she overcame trouble with her drives to salvage solid scores. On hole four she really got going, bouncing her chip shot just right to set up a two-putt for bogey.
On the 352-yard par-five fifth hole, Bell hit her tee shot to the left, just in bounds. “I didn’t have to push it very far,” she said. “I took my seven iron and hit a decent shot onto the green over the sand pit,” setting up par.
On nine she hit a shot behind a tree that was between her and the hole, but was unfazed, chipping the ball around the tree toward the middle of the green.
“You have to angle your shot so that it’s not close to the tree, so even if you hit it bad, it doesn’t hit the tree,” she said. “Jon [Kukula] was behind me saying ‘you’ve got to accelerate,’ because a lot of times I haven’t been doing that. My chip shot was just perfect.”
The only blemish on her scorecard was an eight on the par-three 15. “I teed off with my three-wood and shanked it into the woods,” she said. “I teed off again with a five-wood, and hit it okay, a little off to the side, then my fairway shot was off to the other side, and it just continued like that,” Bell said.
On 18 Bell took advantage of her distance to negate the challenge of the bend. “I hit it about 180 yards,” she said.
“If you don’t hit it to the bend on your first shot, you have to hit it around the corner and waste a lot of shots.”
Bell’s first-day score of 96 was tied for 38th place, just making the cut. On day two, the freshman shot 102 to tie for 44th overall. The girls’ tournament combines 1A, 2B and 1B competitors.
Bell quadruple bogeyed hole two, hitting her tee shot short into a stream. Then she teed off again. “I hit my five-iron and hit it well but it hit a goose. He just stood there and let it hit him, and then he walked away, and the ball rolled sideways.”
Bell responded with a bogey on hole three and a par on hole four. “If I can get three strokes or two strokes off my score on some of those holes where things aren’t going well, that’s an easy way to cut down my score,” Bell said. “Especially with my putting not being amazing at the tournament, there’s room to bring my score down.”
Faith Richardson, Tenyson Ramsey finish season
Faith Richardson shot a front-nine 51 on her way to a 107 on Tuesday. Richardson was at her best on the par threes, parring holes three and eleven and making bogey on eight.
Tenyson Ramsey, a senior who just missed qualifying outright for the tournament, got to play his final round of high school golf when an injured Josh Cordek of Life Christian determined during warm-up swings that he could not play.
Ramsey got off to a rough start but got his swing back with a par on hole six, following up with three straight bogeys and another par. He shot 105 and, like Richardson, missed the cut.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Faith Richardson was a senior playing in her last event. She is a junior.