Regional champ Kingwood a potential darkhorse going into state tournament
Kingwood’s boys golf team had no intention of winning the Region III-6A tournament last week. The Mustangs just wanted to place in the top three to qualify for the state tournament next week.
Instead, Kingwood shocked the field at Eagle Pointe Golf Club in Mont Belvieu when it overcame perennial regional power and tournament favorite Memorial to win by a shot, 619-620.
The win opened the Mustangs’ eyes to possibility and potential heading into the UIL Class 6A state tournament Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown.
So, now? Who the heck knows what to expect out of these Mustangs?
“On one hand, it’s let’s go have a good time because we accomplished our goal of getting to state,” said coach Jeff Bellnap, in his 19th year at the helm of the program. “On the other, these guys are going to state and let’s see what we can do. We’ve had conversations about, hey, let’s see what happens. Let’s do our best and compete. Winning wasn’t in our mind at regionals, but that’s why we play the games. Let’s see where we end up.”
Last season, Kingwood finished seventh at regionals. A year later, the Mustangs are regional champs and booking their sixth trip to state, and first since 2019.
“It was maturity and experience, for sure,” Bellnap said. “They knew what it was going to take for them this year. They did OK last year. This year, we got to regionals with expectations, whereas last year they didn’t. They didn’t know what to expect. This year, the goal was state.”
The same five players that made up Kingwood’s team last year are back this season. The Mustangs’ top players are juniors Brooks Pawlak and Andrew Tucker, and senior Eli Anderson. Seniors Jackson Becker and Luke Lohman make up the rest of a team that has been up and down this year, riding the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
The Mustangs’ first tournament went poorly. Then they won three tournaments in a row. Then they had another poor showing. Then they lost their home tournament by a shot to Flower Mound Marcus.
But Kingwood played impressively well at the regional preview in December, breaking 620 and taking first place. Pawlak and Tucker placed first and third, respectively.
A sign of what the Mustangs were capable of.
“I knew if we shot that again, we’d have a really good chance at state,” Bellnap said.
The ball rolled Kingwood’s way at the regional meet last Wednesday and Thursday.
On the first day, the Mustangs shot 301. The blistery winds were apparently not an issue for Kingwood like it was for some teams; Memorial, for instance, shot 315 on the first day.
“The focus definitely shifted the second day from trying to make it to state to winning the tournament,” Bellnap said. “It was a strange situation, for sure.”
Kingwood, however, needed every bit of that leaderboard cushion on the second day.
The Mustangs got off to a bad start but eventually settled down. Still, they surrendered all but one of the 10-shot lead they had going into the final three holes.
Lohman drained an incline 12-foot par-saving putt to earn Kingwood the win.
“Memorial had beaten us all year,” Bellnap said. “We had scores in mind that we wanted to shoot that we knew if we shot them, we’d go to state. We did that, and it ended up being good enough to win.”
All Bellnap wanted was for his team to break 620. It did. It just so happened to not only be good enough to advance to state, but enough to win the region.
Memorial posted a 301-318 (619) for 51-over during the two days.
Bellnap knew he had a talented team last year. This year, experience has put the Mustangs over the top.
“They’d played so many times together that that experience held them together,” Bellnap said. “To have the same five kids play two years in a row, that’s rare. That’s a lot of tournaments those kids have played together and for each other. That’s what’s pushing us.”