Opitz shot proves I am right about scorecard playoffs

Opitz shot proves I am right about scorecard playoffs

It takes a big man to admit when he is wrong.

That is why you will hardly ever see me do such a silly thing. I would much rather double down and try to argue my way out of it.

This one time, however, I will come out and say it. I was wrong.

Four years ago, I wrote a column advocating that the Montana High School Association ignore a statewide petition of golf parents and keep spectators off the course during high school tournaments.

I had good reason to feel the way I did, however.

When I was 13, I encountered a helicopter dad who tried — and probably succeeded — to psych me out after I was tied for the lead in the 13-and-under age group at the Montana State Junior Championship.

This dad smiled like a used car salesman as pretended that he was my friend.

“You’re the big leader,” the dad said after looking at the posted score sheets at the Green Meadow Country Club in Helena. “Now all the pressure is on you.”

I was tied for the lead with my pal Eddie Kavran Dillon 11 years before Eddie won the 1998 Montana State Amateur title.

My stalker’s son was four shots behind us, even though he stood about nine inches taller. He was one of those boys who peaked physically before he reached high school.

He could have driven himself to middle school, and his dad clearly wanted him to come back and win the state title. The dad figured he needed to get into my head for him to do it, too.

The next morning, that dad was the first adult I saw as I walked into the clubhouse at Bill Roberts Golf Course.

“There’s the leader,” he announced. “You probably didn’t get any sleep worrying about today’s important final round.”

As I went to the practice green to hit a few chips and putts, the guy followed me.

“You better get your practice in,” he said. “Things are a lot different now that you are in the lead. You’ve got to handle the pressure.”

Had my dad saw what was going on, I am pretty sure this guy would have had an emergency dental appointment that day to fix his many missing teeth. Luckily for him, I was dropped off at the course that morning.

I could not wait to get onto the course because the dad was not allowed to follow us.

Dads like that, I figured, would potentially be a gamechanger on the golf course during a high school tournament. They still could, I suppose.

It turns out that I had zero influence over the MHSA, even though the organization was fighting the petition before it eventually gave in with some strict ground rules.

In 2018, parents and other spectators started following players around the golf course, and it has turned out to be a good thing.

Sure, some players probably do not have nearly as much fun because their parents have a close eye on every move they make. But the added dimension of having a gallery follow the round can make up for that.

While the crowd might make some of the players too tense for most of the tournament, it also makes the big moments that much bigger.

After all, the crowd cannot go wild without a crowd. Every golfer dreams of sinking that putt and hearing that roar. Those big moments are why we play in the first place, and having spectators on the course makes every tournament seem like a bigger deal.

So far, I have not heard of any parents like the smarmy dad who followed me around the practice area in Helena. I must have been really lucky to find the LaVar Ball of Montana golf the one time I had a tournament lead.

When it comes to spectators on the course at high school tournaments, I will admit that I was wrong. However, I am only admitting that because it leads nicely into me telling you when I was right.

And boy was I right this time.

At the beginning of the high school golf season, I wrote about the absurdity of the scorecard playoff.

Over the last few decades, high school tournaments have been decided in such a misguided way. Instead of playing a sudden-death playoff like the pros would do, the fate of high school players is determined by the scorecard.

Sometimes, the playoffs go to the last hole and work backward. Other times, it goes by the handicap on the holes.

Whatever hole is picked, if you did not beat your opponent on that hole, you are toast.

It would be like a tie football game being decided by which team scored the most points in the third quarter.

Actually, it is a narrower than that. As one dad pointed out, it would be like breaking a tie by saying the team that scored closest to the 6:15 mark of the second quarter wins, but picking a different moment randomly each game.

When the players play 18 or 36 holes in the tournament, it is incredibly silly to pick out just one of those holes to decide it all.

Why anybody thinks that a scorecard playoff is better than calling it a tie is beyond me. No players feel like winners after their title was determined so arbitrarily.

Luckily, that turned out to be one column that at least a few people paid attention to. And I would like to think that it helped lead to what will most likely go down as the greatest moment of the 2021 Montana high school golf season.

Last week, the Kalispell Invitational at Buffalo Hill Golf Club ended with three boys tied for the lead after 36 holds.

Montana Tech signee Joe Opitz of Missoula Sentinel, Tyler Avery of Kalispell Glacier and Billy Smith of Whitefish all finished at 152. Opitz shot a 76 both days. Avery hit 79-73, and Smith shot 73-79.

The fate of the boys was about to go into the hands of the scorecard when some parents and coaches stepped in.

As he advocated for the tournament directors to let the boys “have their moment,” Dave Opitz, the father of Joe, mentioned the column I wrote.

This time, the right side won the argument, and the players went out for a sudden death playoff on hole No. 18. A large crowd followed.

It only took one hole because Joe Opitz holed out from about 60 yards out to win the tournament. He played the downhill shot to the right of the hole. It took a turn to the left and slowly rolled toward the hole.

As the ball dropped, the crowd went wild.

It is a moment that Opitz will never forget. Neither will Avery or Smith. Neither will any of the spectators or players who watched it.

It is a moment that every golfer dreams about. It is why greenskeeper Carl Spackler was hacking up those flowers at Bushwood.

Tears in his eyes, I guess.

For one day, anyway, the scorecard playoff was tossed in the trash, and the boys were allowed to have their moment.

Then Joe Opitz proved that when I am right, I am right.

— Bill Foley, who was right once or twice before, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74

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