Tough course at tourney troubles South Whidbey golfers

Jesse Portillo wedges out of the bunker on the 15th hole. Portillo could be called “The Sandman” with how often he hit into, and out of, bunkers. He missed qualifying for the second day of the state tournament by three strokes. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Jesse Portillo wedges out of the bunker on the 15th hole. Portillo could be called “The Sandman” with how often he hit into, and out of, bunkers. He missed qualifying for the second day of the state tournament by three strokes.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

SPANAWAY — Back-to-back double bogies was not how Harrison Price envisioned opening his round at the 2A state boys golf tournament earlier this week.

“I tried to put those first couple holes behind me, but I just never got it turned around,” he said.

Price finished the round with 89 strokes — four high of a qualifying score — and tied for 53rd place.

The South Whidbey junior wasn’t surprised by the course, since he played on it a couple times this year and practiced on it a day earlier, when he said he shot well on the course.

During the practice round, the difficulty became clear.

“It was tough,” Price said.

“They cut the course narrow, greens were firm — there’s really nowhere to miss. If you’re iron play isn’t spot on, you’re going to make bogies and doubles.”

Price, who finished fourth at the District 1 tournament to qualify for state, shot an 89. It was one of his worst scores of the year.

“I didn’t hit the ball that bad, I just never really hit shots were I should have. It’s the worst round I’ve played all season. Not score-wise, just the way I felt about it.”

Frustrated with his play, Price finished the round to save face, he said.

“I was pretty sure I was out of it with three holes left,” Price said. “So I was trying to get a decent score and not look too bad. It was tough out there.”

The narrowness of the course wasn’t new to Price. He said most of the courses South Whidbey played this season had narrow fairways. The difference was in its difficulty to get back onto the fairway after a shot into the trees.

“There, if you miss you’re in big, thick trees,” Price said. “Like, in Snohomish [Golf Course], you can miss and you can always find some way to get the ball near the green or back into play. There, if you miss, you’ve got no shot.”

The course was just as difficult for fellow Falcon and junior Jesse Portillo. He finished the round with 88 strokes and missed the qualifying cut by three strokes.

“Overall, I didn’t feel like I played my worst round,” Portillo said, “even though the score didn’t come out too well.”

“It was quite a frustrating round, because I felt I wasn’t playing my best,” Portillo added. “And after this great season that I had, and when I really needed to step up and play a good round, I wasn’t able to do that.”

Portillo had a different natural opponent — bunkers. He hit into three bunkers on three different holes on the back nine. He wedged out of the bunkers on the 15th, 17th and 18th holes.

After the final wedge and two putts on the 18th hole, Portillo put his clubs away, slung his bag over his shoulders and smiled at his coach and dad.

“I felt quite relieved to be off the course, actually,” Portillo said, “because I was just amazed at how hard the course was, that I just felt kind of lost and not ready.”

The bunker success was no accident. He practices wedging with his dad on the beaches of South Whidbey.

“Because the greens were so fast there, I was getting a good roll that just happened to go my way that day,” Portillo said.

After the front nine, Portillo was eight strokes over par (44). He was resigned to consider himself eliminated from the second day until South Whidbey head coach Steve Jones told him he could still qualify.

“I really thought I had no chance, whatsoever,” Portillo said. “Last year’s cut was 79, so I really felt out of it.”

Once Portillo heard there was opportunity for him to qualify for day two, he changed his attitude like he changed clubs from the tee to the green; quick and deliberate.

“If I’m still in this, I need to try my best and keep with it,” he said.

The rounds from Portillo and Price left them wanting more.

Both said they didn’t shoot their best golf, and both acknowledged the course affecting their play.

“It’s just one of those days when you’re totally out of it and you just never got in,” Price said. “Sometimes you’ll start out bad and finish better and play a better back nine. But, I never really turned it around after the first couple holes.”

For Price, this state experience was one of unfulfilled goals.

“Last year my goal was pretty much getting to state,” Price said. “This year, it was more playing well at state. Obviously, I didn’t do that.”

The school golf season ended for the Falcon pair of Portillo and Price, but golf is far from over. Price is registered to compete in 11 tournaments this summer and fall. Portillo has a handful of tournaments planned, and between tourneys will play at Useless Bay Golf & Country Club.

“I’m not taking any time off,” Price said.

Ryan Wallen of Blaine High School (District 1) won the tournament with a two-day total of 173 strokes. He shot two under par (70 strokes) on the second day.

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