RICHLAND — Freshman Blake Kukula of Ilwaco won the State 1B/2B golf tournament at Horn Rapids Golf Course in Richland May 23-24, shooting 75 on Tuesday and crushing the field with a 70 on Wednesday to win the tournament by seven strokes.
Ethan Bannister shot 86-97 to help Ilwaco’s boys team take second place. Aslyn Fisher shot 98-92, nearly finishing in the top 20 in the girls’ tournament, where B schools had to face 1A competitors.
Coach Bob Enos described Horn Rapids as “a true desert course,” with narrow grass fairways surrounded by natural desert. “There are areas they intentionally don’t maintain,” Kukula added, allowing brush growth and sand to make putting more difficult.
Kukula’s group included defending champion Palmer Guhlke of Davenport and Dawson Strobel of Tekoa and teed off at noon Tuesday, with temperatures over 90 degrees. “[Kukula] started out strong and had a little hiccup on the front nine with back-to-back bogeys, but rebounded well,” Enos said. Kukula’s score of 75 was one stroke behind day-one leaders Guhlke and Strobel. “I didn’t play that great; I wasn’t hitting a lot of good shots, but I saved myself with putts,” Kukula said.
After the first day, assistant coach Jon Kukula, Blake’s father, went over strategy with Blake. Evaluating the course, Blake’s abilities, and the abilities of his nearest opponents, they decided on a risk-taking, aggressive approach in hopes of a score that nobody else could keep up with. “Instead of focusing on beating my opponents,” Blake said, “We decided to pick a score low enough that I could win no matter what, and go for that. The score we picked was 68, and I ended up with a 70.”
Kukula built a lead on the front nine Wednesday. On hole 10, Kukula missed an iron shot, putting it on the golf cart path. There was a dispute between coaches about where Kukula could place the ball; judges ruled in favor of Kukula, allowing him to place it on a desert lie, and he salvaged par. Kukula missed another shot on hole 11, leading to a bogey, but his nearest competitors also bogeyed, preserving his four-stroke lead. Kukula sunk a 30-foot birdie putt on hole 12.
The rest of the tournament was a coronation, but Kukula kept the pedal to the metal. Kukula said he played every hole as aggressively as possible, and missed few shots. That was a near-perfect scenario, and the rest of the field could not keep up, especially with heavy wind Wednesday. The next best score on the day was Devon Caruso of Pomeroy at 77. Strobel shot 78, as did Matthew Lee of Life Christian, who had shot 80 on Tuesday. The rest of the field was in the 80s Wednesday, with Guhlke shooting 82.
Aslyn Fisher became the first to qualify for State all four years for Ilwaco’s girls’ golf team. She had some rough holes on Tuesday but managed a 98. She came back with a 91 in the wind on Wednesday, tying for 16th on the day in a field of 42 who had made the cut. She finished 23rd over all, one stroke out of the top 20.
Fisher has twice finished in the top 10 at State. This season, she battled a bigger field, as girls’ B schools were battling 1As.
Madison Chabot did not make the cut, shooting 109, but the second-year golfer sustained her recent rapid improvements. “She had never shot below 60 over nine holes, and now she’s done it three times in two weeks,” Jon Kukula said. “She has a lot of potential. She hits the ball very straight.”
Bannister, in the final tournament of his career, made the cut by two strokes with a first-day 86, keeping Ilwaco in contention for the boys’ team championship heading into day two.
“Ethan had a great first round,” Jon Kukula said. “He played with growing confidence at District and State,” getting into the mid-80s for the first time. “He got more comfortable with his swing, getting the ball in play consistently.” Bannister slipped to 97 on Wednesday. Enos said the wind forced Bannister to turn to his three wood on tee shots for accuracy, sacrificing distance on some key holes.
Bannister finished 21st, helping Ilwaco take the second-place team trophy. Colfax, with the fourth and 11th place golfers, took first. They needed Chance Weitze to get into fourth place, and he did at 155, a stroke better than Guhlke.
Bannister’s group got done well before Kukula’s, so he watched Kukula finish, joining teammates Zac Tapio, who missed the cut after a first-day 97, and Tenyson Ramsey, who was there as an alternate.
“They were up caddying, making sure the ball was findable,” Kukula said. “Their support meant a lot. It was a hot day out, and they could have been relaxing in the clubhouse.”