GRAND JUNCTION – All too often in golf, it’s a Tiger that dominates the final round of a big tournament. The final round of the Class 4A girls golf state tournament was no exception. A Tiger cub distanced herself from the pack and a streak of Tigers that captured team gold and potentially ignited a dynasty.
Freshman Hadley Ashton followed up her low round of the day from Wednesday at Tiara Rado Golf Course with a 2-over-par 73 to clear the field by four shots to win the individual title. Her round, along with solid rounds from sophomore Logan Hale and sophomore Kait Park gave Erie a 14-stroke win which resulted in their first team title in program history.
“It’s hard to describe because you grind so hard and put so much time into the program that it becomes emotional,” coach Brandon Bird said. “I’m lucky because these girls are the best and I’m just kind of along for the ride.”
What a ride it was.
Knowing that she had better scoring chances on the back nine, Ashton played the front with the simple goal of shooting even par. She made her lone bogey on that side on the par-3 third, a hole that claimed many victims because of a tricky left side pin placement, and recovered with a birdie on No. 7.
“I wasn’t trying to get too aggressive and get too down,” Ashton said. “I was saving a bunch of pars which boosted my confidence going into the back nine.”
Then she started scoring. She made birdies on 10 and 12 before a bad three-putt double-bogey on 13. She got back under par for the round with birdie on 15 before giving it back on 16. But by that time, she was seven shots clear of Windsor’s Macy Kleve, who sat in second place at the time.
By the time she got to 18, a dry tee shot all but guaranteed the individual championship. But she still tried to make the hole as interesting as possible. With adrenaline flowing, her second shot sailed long of the green, giving her a downhill lie where she was shortsighted to the pin.
“I’ve been in similar situations,” she said. “But playing for something else, playing for a team, just made me so nervous. I just wanted to par the hole and get it over with. That didn’t happen, but that’s okay.”
By the time the ball found the bottom of the cup, she had made a triple-bogey, but still won the tournament by four strokes. She’s the first freshman to win a state title since 2018 when Eaglecrest’s Emma Bryant won the 5A tournament. But she looks back a little longer to the player she wants to match – and exceed – in the next three years. One of her best friends is Holy Family alum Hailey Schalk.
Schalk won state as a freshman in 2017 and likely would have won four titles if it hadn’t been for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s one of my biggest inspirations for this tournament,” Ashton said. “I knew she couldn’t do it and she wants me to do it. I feel really happy about it. I’m going to text her right after this.”
This could be the start of a dynasty for Erie as the entire team will return next season. And what helps is that both Ashton and Hale are capable of finding their way to the top of the state championship leaderboard on any given weekend.
Hale was in the mix for the 3A title last year and was hovering at the top of the leaderboard all week at Tiara Rado. She certainly felt a difference this year as she also found herself playing for the team.
“With the whole team here, parents, friends, sisters, family, my coach’s family, it was just a different kind of support,” Hale said. “I wasn’t just playing for me. I was playing for my principal, for my teachers. Really just for all of Erie.”
Next year will be another battle as seven of the top 10 finishers returns. Ashton and Hale will be joined by Riverdale Ridge’s Alex Remaklus (T5), Discovery Canyon’s Emily Cheng (T5), Cheyenne Mountain’s Ava Schroeder (T7), Mullen’s Kaitlin Zingler (9) and Kleve (10).
Mullen finished as the team runner-up and will return three of its four players next season, giving them a good shot at overcoming Erie.
But a lot of times, when it comes to golf championships, successfully hunting Tigers is a rare accomplishment.