BANDON — Long before the golf season started, Bandon boys coach Scott Millhouser was hoping the Tigers would be good enough to get to the state tournament, but his aspirations weren’t much higher.
Sure the Tigers won their first title last spring, capturing the Class 3A-2A-1A crown behind freshman state champion Scotty Kennon, his brother Jackson, who was fourth, and Casey Peters, who was seventh. Alexander Schultz finished 20th and Bandon was a runaway winner, beating Oregon Episcopal by 28 strokes.
But Peters graduated and Scotty Kennon headed off to an academy in Portland and suddenly Millhouser had two holes to fill in the lineup.
Thanks to two newcomers with virtually no experience, Bandon not only has earned another trip to state, but could compete for another crown Monday and Tuesday at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell.
Senior Matt Yarbor, who had been a baseball player, and junior Isaac Cutler, a distance runner on the track team, switched sports and have lifted Bandon’s fortunes by improving dramatically in their first spring in the sport.
“I didn’t know who this kid was until three months ago,” Millhouser said of Yarbor after a practice round Thursday at Bandon Crossings.
The same goes for Cutler, who at least had been a caddie at Bandon Dunes and in the Evans Scholarship program, even if he wasn’t a regular golfer.
“We’ve been fortunate to have them on the team,” Millhouser said.
Though they weren’t experienced golfers, both Yarbor and Cutler are athletic, making them fit with the rest of the team.
“This is probably the most athletic group of boys I’ve had,” Millhouser said. “That has helped everyone get better.
“If you are athletic and you are a competitor, you drive each other to get better.”
Yarbor and Cutler also have shown a desire to improve, which has been clear to Jackson Kennon.
“I’ve been out here on Saturdays and Sundays and seen you guys,” he said to Yarbor.
Cutler and Schulz were at the state band competition on Thursday and missed practice, a rarity.
“I think I’ve taken one day off in four months,” said Yarbor, adding that he never really felt like a baseball player, but that golf “has been a blast.”
Millhouser said his team’s commitment has made the season special.
“The first day of practice, I told my wife I was more excited about this year than last year,” he said. “They were hungry and wanted to play.
“This year we have worked hard at it. It was refreshing and motivating for me.”
The Tigers are entering the state tournament on a high note. They easily won the district title last week at Medford and had their best round of the year the second day, a 324.
“I feel like every boy on the team is hitting their stride at the right time,” Millhosuer said.
“I’ve been super excited to see us grow,” added Kennon, who shot his best round of the season on the final day of the district tournament, a 3-under 69 that lifted him to medalist honors after he opened with a 79.
“I made all my putts,” Kennon said of the final round. “The first day I hit the ball solid, but I couldn’t put anything in.”
Schulz also had a big jump in the second round, improving from 87 to 76 to finish fifth. Cutler was ninth with rounds of 90 and 88 and Yarbor was 13th after a 95 and a 91.
Bandon’s fifth spot in the tournament, where teams count their top four scores, will be sophomore Luke Brown one day and Nick Turner, another returning player and a senior like Kennon, Schulz and Yarbor, the other.
The Tigers would love to repeat as champions and Yarbor said he feels pressured to play well.
“That’s 100 percent sure,” he said. “I want to win again.”
Kennon, meanwhile, will be among the favorites in the individual race and he’d love to follow in his brother’s footsteps as champion.
“That would be awesome,” he said. “But the team is a little more important to me.”
Bandon will be paired with two of the other team favorites — Oregon Episcopal and the combined Heppner/Ione squad.
“It’s going to come down to who can handle the pressure best and control their emotions best,” Millhouser said. “I feel confident we will do well.
“I can’t wait.”