HAMILTON — Max Cianflone was steps away from the finish line in a race during this past track and field season.
He felt good. The sophomore from Hamilton was steady as a sprinter competing with the Broncs' 400-meter relay squad. But on the final few strides, he heard a pop and went down near the finish line.
Cianflone injured his left hip flexor and missed a large chunk of track. He returned for the Class A state meet but his relay team was disqualified due to a mistimed hand off.
While track is where he got hurt, the golf course is more his speed. He finished tied for 29th at the Class A state meet in Butte with a two-round score of 176 as his team finished fifth.
He has played just one other real event since his injury. On Wednesday, he got a chance on his home course.
Cianflone didn't play his best round, finishing 6-over par at 78 in 18 holes at the Hamilton Golf Course at the District 1 Junior Golf divisional. He finished tied for fourth in the 16-18 flight, notching the same score as his Hamilton teammate Tanner Hanson.
But for Cianflone, it was a positive move forward on his way back from injury.
"I played one and didn't do too well, but I was pretty happy today," Cianflone said. "I had a couple holes go bad, but I managed to finish."
It was touch and go for a while for Cianflone. He had a rough front nine, opening with two bogeys and two double bogeys while snagging par on the other five. He finished the front nine 6-over par, but found a solid groove on the back nine.
He opened with a par on No. 10, then came up big on 11, 12 and 13 with a birdie, par and another birdie. On 13, which is kind of short for a par 4, Cianflone ripped his tee shot just shy of the green.
His dad, who was watching, said if the tee placement was a bit different, in a spot that Cianflone knows more, the Hamilton local could have greened it from the tee box.
Cianflone "settled" for the birdie with a clean chip to set up a solid put from about 10 or so feet out. He ended up bogeying 15 and double bogeying 16, but finished strong on 18 with a deep tee shot and sank a 20-footer to close the afternoon with one of the hardest made putts of the day.
"Through the first couple holes on the back nine I kinda turned it on," he said. " ... I am feeling pretty confident and I think I can get even better, hopefully for next season. I am planning on being up on the course every day and it was really nice to be back on my home course."
Cianflone had a bit of an advantage over some of his competitors Wednesday, being that he knows the course better. He hit some shots that if you don't know the course or have at the least played it before, you run the risk of cutting a shot out of bounds or mistaking where a hazard is located.
Corvallis' Luke Schlimgen and Loyola Sacred Heart's Zeke Boos tied for first in the 16-18 boys flight at 1-over par for a total of 73. Maxwell Milton of Polson had the lowest score of the day with a 1-under par for 71 competing in the 13 and under division.
Boos, ever the competitor after a strong spring season where he finished second as an individual and led Loyola to a runner-up finish at the Class B state meet, was quick to point out he had some struggles on an unfamiliar course.
"I struggled on the front nine without a doubt," he said. "But I brought it together on the back nine; 18 was a frustrating hole, going into the water by just a few feet was a bit tough. ... I'm walking away with a lot of improvements to make but a relatively decent round as well. ... There were a few holes where, just not knowing it got me a little unlucky a few times."
Sam Engellant out of Kalispell and Carson Hupka out of Polson took first in the 14-15 flight with a 3-over par, 75.
On the girls side, Katie Lewis out of Missoula dominated the 14-15 group with a 5-over par, 77, beating out the next closest by nine strokes. Stella Claridge, also out of Kalispell, took the win in the 16-18 flight at 11-over, 83.