SEELEY LAKE -- McKinley Nicholas’ story would have been a fitting one at the final round of the Class C state golf tournament on Wednesday.
The Seeley-Swan senior rallied from two strokes back with three holes to play, forging a tie with Harlowton’s Reed Wasson before the Double Arrow Golf Course’s 18th tee.
Instead the legend of Nicholas’ improbable comeback turned into the tale of Wasson’s unbelievable shot.
The Harlowton senior shot from just off the front of the Par 5 green to hit a 35-foot birdie putt and ice the Class C boys’ individual title with a two-day score of 81-80-161. Nicholas’ 25-foot putt that immediately followed came up just shy of the hole, and the defending champ fell one stroke short.
“It’s hard to see somebody knock in a 30-footer for the win from right behind you,” the soft-spoken Nicholas said while players gathered around the clubhouse to see the final-round scores.
“I just told him good putt. I didn’t know what else to say.”
Nicholas’ consolation prize was a good one, though. Along with the silver individual medal, his Blackhawks claimed the Class C team title with a final score of 262-252-514. McKinley’s younger brother, Malachi, finished fifth overall to help the team score with an 88-83-171. Shane Lindemer placed 10th, using a massive drive he demonstrated on Hole 8. His tee shot on the 371-yard hole landed less than 100 yards from the pin.
In the end, though, it was Wasson’s short-range shot that won out.
The Harlowton senior and Nicholas stared down similar third shots on the tournament’s last hole. Both were on the fairway needing to hit over a creek and uphill to the green. Wasson, slightly farther away, swung first. He landed on short grass a few feet from the fringe.
Nicholas landed 10 feet in front of him on the green.
“I got up there knowing we were tied. I knew (Nicholas) had the advantage,” Wasson said.
Wasson again shot first, letting fly a bump with his putter that the Engineer golfer thought was destined to run too far. It might have, but…
“I was like, ‘crap, that’s past the hole, I might not even be close enough to tie him. It hit the back of the pin and went in and I just…” said Wasson, sighing with joy.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime shot on the state’s biggest stage.
Harlowton’s Garret Woldstad, who led after Tuesday's first round and lost to Nicholas in a three-hole playoff at state last year, finished third overall to help the Engineers take the bronze trophy. Manhattan Christian’s Kyle Frye placed fourth and the Eagles finished in second.
Manhattan Christian’s girls won the team title with a score of 311-324-635. Jillian Frye was the top scorer for the Eagles in third place with a 104-96-200.
Sunburst’s Katara Ryan won the girls’ individual gold, recovering from a rainy and disappointing Day 1. Her second-day score of 89 was by and far the best round for any girl. She won the title by five strokes, 103-89-192.
“Things were just clicking today, yesterday was really frustrating,” said Ryan, surrounded by family and friends after receiving her medal. “It’s a mental game and I just wasn’t there yesterday… My driver (was not) cooperating so I just hit my hybrid all day and it just somehow went straight.”
And although it was lonely at the top – Ryan was the only Sunburst participant at the Class C tournament – she was joined by her former teammate and friend who rooted her on from the sidelines, Courtney Lindskog. The two were apart of Sunburst’s last team title in 2015.
For the Seeley boys, the first-place trophy – held up by Lindemer, the Nicholas brothers and senior Bo Jungers – was the first since 2015.
Head coach Wayne Cahoon was all smiles after the tournament.
“To come in here on the second day after not playing well the first day and play like they did today just shows the heart that they have,” he said. “I knew it in the beginning of the year that this was going to be a really good team. I didn’t see anybody really challenging us for state, but that’s golf, you play (and see).
“But, we got it.”
McKinley nearly achieved the same feat his brother Micah accomplished in 2015, winning both the individual and team titles.
This year’s Blackhawk battled back from a 44 on the front nine to shoot even-par on the back nine despite bogeying Holes 10 and 11. He hit a 20-foot birdie putt on 12 to recoup some of his mojo and nearly canned a long eagle putt on 13 that hit the back of the hole and bounced out.
The difference may have been the pin – which saved Wasson on 18 and gave him an exhilarating Class C state title.