Boys Golf: Zhang’s arrival bolsters Regis Jesuit for another run at 5A state championship

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Regis Jesuit High School's Tyler Zhang, Bennett Rogers and Andrew McCormick pose on Aug. 11, 2015, at Meadow Hills Golf Course in Aurora. The arrival of Zhang, a transfer from Highlands Ranch, bolsters the Raiders, who have finished in the top two at the Class 5A boys state golf tournament for six straight seasons. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)
Regis Jesuit High School’s Tyler Zhang, Bennett Rogers and Andrew McCormick pose on Aug. 11, 2015, at Meadow Hills Golf Course in Aurora. The arrival of Zhang, a transfer from Highlands Ranch, bolsters the Raiders, who have finished in the top two at the Class 5A boys state golf tournament for six straight seasons. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

While golf is primarily an individual sport, Tyler Zhang found the team aspect he’d been looking for at Regis Jesuit.

The junior standout joins the Raiders in 2015 after two seasons as one of the top players at Highlands Ranch, Regis Jesuit’s chief Continental League rival, and immediately noted the difference.

Zhang knew Regis Jesuit’s coach Craig Rogers and senior Bennett Rogers, one of the Raiders’ team captains, and has felt welcome immediately by his new teammates.

Regis Jesuit High School junior Tyler Zhang tees off on Hole No. 1 at Meadow Hills Golf Course on Aug. 11, 2015. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)
Regis Jesuit High School junior Tyler Zhang tees off on Hole No. 1 at Meadow Hills Golf Course on Aug. 11, 2015. Zhang qualified for the Class 5A boys state golf tournament twice while at Highlands Ranch and transferred to the Raiders after a summer that included a 7-under-par 64 at King’s Deer G.C. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

“It’s definitely more team-based here, it feels like one big family,” Zhang said Aug. 11 prior to teeing off on the second round of Regis Jesuit’s tryouts at Meadow Hills Golf Course.

“We have a lot of team dinners and everybody gets along well. I liked it at Ranch, too, we just never really put it together as a team,” he added.

On the flip side of that coin is Regis Jesuit, which seeks to extend a run of six straight top-two finishes at the Class 5A state tournament. The Raiders had a four-year championship streak snapped last season when they finished in a tie with Lakewood, a distant 21 strokes behind winner Coronado.

Craig Rogers calls Coronado — which dominated the Colorado Springs Country Club Course in its own backyard last year — the team to beat in 2015, but he feels good about his Raiders, who return Bennett Rogers and Andrew McCormick from the state team and now has Zhang in the fold.

The newcomer finished in a tie for 17th place at last season’s state meet — which tied the top finish for Regis Jesuit posted by graduated Kevin Shafer — and tied for 35th at state as a freshman.

Zhang tuned up his game over the summer, highlighted by a scorching 7-under-par 64 during a CJGA 14-18 Junior Series event at King’s Deer G.C. in Monument. Zhang, who made eight birdies in his round, said he was later told it was the course record.

“It was definitely a confidence boost,” added Zhang, who will have to sit out half of the varsity season — six tournaments in all — before he can join the mix.

Bennett Rogers, voted a team captain along with McCormick and Charlie Thornton, hoped to play with Zhang the last two years, but he’ll take what he can get.

“I’ve known Tyler since I was six and we had the same swing coach,” Rogers said. “I was heartbroken when he went to Ranch, but it’s great to have him. That puts together a solid team like the Chris (Korte), Jake (Kelley) and Spencer (Painton) team with me, Tyler and Andrew. Well maybe it would be a poor man’s version, we’re not as dominant. I don’t think we’ll do 1-2-5, but we’ll get up there.”

Indeed the bar set by the aforementioned trio is a very high one, as Painton won the state title, while Kelley finished second and Korte seventh at the 2013 5A state tournament. All three moved on to play Division I golf, Painton at Kansas and Kelley and Korte at the University of Denver.

McCormick also has high hopes for his strengthened team.

“Tyler is going to be a big help to our team and he’s one of the strongest from our league from Ranch, which would have been our biggest competition,” McCormick said. “We’re grateful to have him…We’re a pretty deep team as it is, but adding him makes us really deep at the top.”

Rogers — who won a junior tournament at the site of this season’s 5A state tournament, Fort Collins Country Club — feels much more comfortable in big tournaments, which he thinks will serve him well, while McCormick, who lost in the finals of the 65th CGA Junior Match Play Championships in July, believes his improved chipping and putting could push him high in the state standings.

Regis Jesuit has a deep group that should fight it out for the last two positions on varsity including sophomore Drew Anderson, who suffered an overuse injury in his shoulder that kept him out of the second round of tryouts.

In July, Anderson tied for 21st in the boys 14-15 division of the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Hayden Smith — who had an ace in Regis Jesuit tryouts last year — and Cameron Kirke figure to be among a handful of players who will play varsity tournaments for the Raiders and should be in the mix to be part of the final group.

Note: Aurora has four other returning 5A state qualifiers in the duo of senior Ji Woo Jang and Bradley Scalia of defending Centennial League champion Cherokee Trail, plus two-time state qualifier Paul Cleveland of Smoky Hill and Eaglecrest sophomore standout Davis Bryant. For more on Aurora’s other boys golf programs for the 2015 season, click here.

Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel

2015 AURORA BOYS GOLFERS TO WATCH

Drew Anderson, Regis Jesuit, soph.; Davis Bryant, Eaglecrest, soph*.; Jared Clanton, Rangeview, jr.; Paul Cleveland, Smoky Hill, sr.*; Kyle Colen, Smoky Hill, jr.; Luke Hemphill, Gateway, sr.; Ji Woo Jang, Cherokee Trail, sr.*; Mason Jowsey, Grandview, sr.; Ryan Loos, Cherokee Trail, sr.; Andrew McCormick, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Joseph Miller, Gateway, sr.; Levi Robinson, Rangeview, soph.; Bennett Rogers, Regis Jesuit, sr.*; Bradley Scalia, Cherokee Trail, jr.*; Raymond Simanjuntak, Rangeview, sr.; Danny Taggart, Grandview, jr.; Tyler Zhang, Regis Jesuit, jr.*

* — Returning 5A state qualifier

For key dates and information for the 2015 Aurora boys golf season, click here.