MISSOULA — Bucky Crippen needed a few seconds to think.
Sitting in the clubhouse at The Ranch Club on the west side of Missoula, the Loyola Sacred Heart junior stared out a window at the golf course.
Crippen, the youngest of four siblings and the only one without an individual golf state title, had a slight smile as he broke his silence.
“Yeah, it’d be pretty cool,” Crippen said of wanting to win a state title like his sisters. “We won state last year as a team. I definitely want to win the individual one as well.”
Crippen’s three older sisters combined to win five individual Class B state golf championships.
Kelsie, who played one season at Montana, won the state title in 2008. Maggie, who starred at North Dakota State, won state championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Sadie, who played at Montana, won a state title in 2015.
Bucky has won every tournament he’s played in this season ahead of divisionals Tuesday in Bigfork. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he should qualify for the state tournament and be one of the favorites May 15-16 at Eagle Rock in Shepherd, a course he hasn’t played.
He’s also hoping to help the Rams capture another team title.
“I feel some pressure,” Crippen said of trying to live up to the expectations set by his sisters. “But I think it’s good to have pressure. Usually, I like more pressure. I perform better when there’s pressure. Last year at state, I performed my best. I just think I play better under bigger circumstances.”
Crippen didn’t enjoy golfing initially as a kid.
Growing up, he and his sisters had to hit a bucket of balls before they were allowed to go swimming at the country club’s pool.
“I was forced when I was a little, little kid,” Crippen recalled. “But as I got to know that I was pretty good at it, I came to liking it. I’m definitely not forced anymore to go practice. I like practicing now.”
His improving work ethic has continued to impress head coach Mike Trudnowski over the years.
Before Crippen teed off for Monday and Tuesday’s Loyola Invitational, he went out to the driving range alongside some of the other 100-plus golfers who competed. But instead of pulling out his driver, the leader by example spent about 15 minutes working on his wedge shots.
“Amateur golfers will pick up a driver because they want to hit the smack out of the ball,” Trudnowski said. “That’s the big thing — to say how far you can hit it. But Bucky pulled out his wedge and works himself up to where he hits his driver. Everybody kind of follows him. He’s developed a process, a way to do things in terms of his skills that are going to get him to that next level.”
Trudnowski highlighted Crippen’s growth both physically and mentally while he’s matured throughout high school as reasons for his success this season.
On the course, Crippen tries to keep a positive mentality at all times and focus on the upcoming shot, not the past shot, whether it was good or bad.
“I feel like Bucky is a very chill person,” Loyola senior Kylie Esh, a Montana signee, said. “He doesn’t get too angry when he hits a bad shot. He keeps his composure very well.”
By competition standards, Crippen has had a successful season.
But by his standards, he’s been far from pleased.
“I haven’t played how I’ve wanted to play yet all year,” Crippen said. “I’ve been trying to get a breakthrough round. Once you get that first round in the 60s, it usually comes easier after that. I haven’t been excelling at anything. Just not making it worse.”
He’s been working on his putter, which has usually been reliable, and his driver because he knows the importance of longer drives on bigger courses at the college level.
Trudnowski compared Crippen’s repetitive swing to those of his three sisters, although they each exceled at different areas on the course.
“He’s fine-tuned it so well,” the coach said. “He’s got a swing that a lot of people envy. It’s one of those perfect golf swings.”
In his final tune-up for the postseason Tuesday, he kept working on his shot, posted a second day-best 75 at Canyon Ridge and won the Loyola Invitational with a 152.
He’ll try to exceed his second-place finish at state last year, when he finished behind Arizona State commit Ryggs Johnston, whose Libby team moved up to Class A this year.
“Last year and freshman year, we played every tournament together,” Crippen said. “This season feels kind of different without him. When you play with better people, you play better yourself. That’s how I feel.”
After the state tournament, he’ll use the summer to again play in junior professional golf tournaments. It’s there that he hopes to turn some heads on the college trail.
Crippen plans to golf beyond high school, preferably at the Division I level and outside of Montana so he can play more often with the warmer weather. He’s talked with some schools but has yet to receive any offers.
Trudnowski wouldn’t expect anything less than a college shot for Crippen.
“He’ll end up playing in college somewhere,” his coach said.
“But I truly believe his focus right now is on getting himself in position that first day of state to where you’re in the hunt. Once he’s in that position, then he knows what he has to do that next day to come out and win it.”