GRAND JUNCTION | Michael Milton is still fairly new to the game of golf, but he’s earned a chance that some who play their it their whole lives never get: playing in the state tournament.
With just five years worth of experience in golf — which he got introduced to when his father took him out to caddy for him one day and found that he could read greens correctly — Milton earned his first trip to the Class 5A boys state golf tournament, which opens Monday at Bookcliff Country Club.
Milton tees off at 9 a.m. and will be the first golfer to represent Gateway (thought he is homeschooled) at the state tournament since Skyler Espinoza in 2007. Milton shot an 11-over-par 83 at the 5A Northern Regional Sept 19 at Saddle Rock Golf Course and escaped with one of the final two state qualifying spots, narrowly avoiding a make-or-break playoff hole.
“I was nervous and emotionally I was falling apart waiting,” Milton recalled. “Coach (Brian Dossey) told me to stay loose because it was pretty close, so I went out to the range and then went to the putting green. I came back in to check on things and he shook my hand and said ‘you’re going to state.'”
Milton’s road to the state tournament — where he’s one of 11 players from Aurora schools set to compete in the two-day tournament — is anything but common. He gave up golf for a couple of years after a frustrating early introduction and then ended up playing at Eaglecrest, where he got to know Davis Bryant, who is headed to the state tournament himself.
Milton credits Bryant — who has won the individual Centennial League championship for each of the past two seasons and is certainly one of a strong group of title challengers — with showing him many ways to improve his short game, which he has used to overcome occasional unpredictability off the tee and enough putting. Milton and Bryant play together often at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club, where Bryant’s father is the head pro.
Dossey said the program in the Cherry Creek School District that allowed Milton to play at Eaglecrest came to end and he had to choose a school in his attendance area (Gateway) or a school in Douglas County. Milton and his freshman brother Garrison, a talented golfer in his own right, chose Gateway and made a big impact after sitting out half of the Olys’ season.
“I’m so thankful they chose Gateway and allowed me to come here with them,” Dossey said. “I’m also glad I got to coach them. They are some remarkable young men.”
Milton — who said before regionals he believed his younger brother would make the one to make state and not him — snapped a nearly decade-long drought without Gateway orange and black in the state tournament field and aims to far surpass the efforts of Espinoza, who finished nearly last in the 2007 state tournament at Collindale Golf Course in Fort Collins.
“I just want to play well and I’m out here just happy for the opportunity of Coach Dossey allowing me to play with the golf team at Gateway,” Milton said. “I’m going to pay him back and give him the best golf I’ve got.”
Dossey watched Milton shoot a practice round of 80 at Bookcliff — which he said seems pretty straightforward tee to green but figures to have very challenging greens for the entire field — on Sunday and could have shot five or six shots better.
“He’s playing his best golf right now,” Dossey said.
Of the 11 Aurora qualifiers in the state field, Milton is one of just four without any state tournament experience.
Half of the contingent of four Regis Jesuit golfers seeking to bring home a second consecutive 5A state title — senior Justin Markel and junior Drew Anderson — will play at state for the first time, as will Grandview senior Brandon Armitage.
The rest of Aurora’s state contingent has plenty of experience.
Regis Jesuit’s Tyler Zhang and Cherokee Trail’s Bradley Scalia both appear at state for the fourth time, while Bryant will play for the third time and Grandview’s Danny Taggart, Regis Jesuit’s Cal McCoy and the Smoky Hill duo of Christopher Kennedy and Kyle Colen each appear a second time.
Taggart, McCoy and Kennedy all played in last year’s state tournament, while Colen returns for the first time since 2013, his freshman season.
Regis Jesuit wasn’t able to win Sept. 15 Western Regional tournament at Broadlands G.C., but coach Craig Rogers Continental League championship team had all four of its regional players qualify individually.
The Raiders — who return Zhang and McCoy from last season’s championship winner — figure to get plenty of challenge from teams such as Fossil Ridge, Fairview, Lakewood and others to stay on top.
Regis Jesuit won the 5A state title in a playoff in 2011 when it was played at Bookcliff.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
CLASS 5A BOYS STATE GOLF TOURNAMENT, FIRST ROUND PAIRINGS
Sept. 26 at Bookcliff Country Club (Grand Junction)
9 a.m.: Joey Ashley (Dakota Ridge), MICHAEL MILTON (GATEWAY), Sam Ostravich (ThunderRidge)
9:54 a.m.: DREW ANDERSON (REGIS JESUIT), Jack Hastings (Fossil Ridge), Tommy Packer (Arapahoe)
10:03 a.m.: Cam Lampe (Fossil Ridge), CAL MCCOY (REGIS JESUIT), Alex Yano (Arapahoe)
10:12 a.m.: Turner Johnson (Arapahoe), Dillon Stewart (Fossil Ridge), TYLER ZHANG (REGIS JESUIT)
10:21 a.m.: Josh Caridi (Fossil Ridge), JUSTIN MARKEL (REGIS JESUIT), Jay Yano (Arapahoe)
9 a.m.: BRANDON ARMITAGE (GRANDVIEW), Cameron Bajaj (Heritage), Adam Hulse (Fort Collins)
10:03 a.m.: Kailer Rundiks (Denver East), Reese Taylor (Castle View), DANNY TAGGART (GRANDVIEW)
10:12 a.m.: Danny Gallant (Monarch), CHRISTOPHER KENNEDY (SMOKY HILL), Cam Nagel (Rocky Mountain)
10:30 a.m.: Brandon Bervig (Liberty), KYLE COLEN (SMOKY HILL), Cameron Como (Rampart)
10:48 a.m.: Freddie Gluck (Boulder), Canon Olkowski (Grand Junction), BRADLEY SCALIA (CHEROKEE TRAIL)
10:57 a.m.: Ethan Alexander (Monarch), DAVIS BRYANT (EAGLECREST), Marcus Tait (Columbine)