Rifle’s Cruse smiling all the way to Broomfield
RIFLE – Shawn Cruse’s smile just wouldn’t go away.Although he watched his school’s football team go down in flames during a football game in Glenwood Springs Sept. 21, the senior from Rifle was still flying high from his accomplishments a day earlier.There’s a good reason for that smile.The kid is going to state.As a regional champion.”I’m just happy I got this far,” said the smiling Cruse. “I was just thinking about qualifying. I didn’t think I would win.”Now it’s time for the big show – the Colorado state golf tournament. Cruse is the only Rifle golfer to qualify for the tournament today and Tuesday at Broadlands Golf Course in Broomfield.As a team, the Bears placed seventh with a score of 245. Alex Haynes had an 84 and Eric Copen an 89. Basalt won the team title and will have a whole team, including stars Jim Knous and Connor Rakowski, vying for a state team title.”I’m just going to practice and prepare and go in with the same mentality as regionals,” Cruse said. “I’m just going to have fun.”Fun?Try gut-wrenching. Try nerve-wracking. Try nail-biting.If that’s fun, then Cruse is ready. Because he went through all of that to earn his gold medal.It took three holes of sudden death for Cruse to be crowned champion. He beat freshman Brian Grubbs of Montezuma-Cortez in a playoff after both shot an even-par 72 in regulation.Cruse sank a four-foot putt for a birdie on the third playoff hole – on the par 5 No. 15 – for the victory. Grubbs opened the door when his 15-foot birdie attempt came up short.”I was shaking with that putter,” Cruse said. “As soon as I pulled that putter back, it was shaking.”But Cruse stayed focused. He kept his head down and followed through with a smooth stroke. He looked up in time to see the ball disappear in the cup.”I couldn’t believe it. I just stood there,” Cruse said.Now, he’s standing tall.But he might not be champ if not for a few calming words from his coach, Duke Earl.Cruse started off with a bang, notching three birdies in the first four holes. But then he ran into trouble on the back nine, scoring back-to-back double bogeys on holes 12 and 13 to erase his early momentum.”I was getting in a hurry and I was getting frustrated,” Cruse said.But then Earl pulled him aside and quietly encouraged his player and reminded him why he was there.”He said, ‘Just have fun and let it happen,'” Cruse said. “He really settled me down.”And he started to have fun again.”As soon as I finished, Duke said, ‘You’re tied for first,'” Cruse said.He couldn’t believe it.But he had to wait for an hour to let the rest of the field come. Maybe somebody else would qualify for the playoff.Nobody did.During the wait, Cruse spent about 20 minutes on the putting green. And then he hit some balls on the driving range.He wanted to be ready for his battle with Grubbs.”I never played with him before. In fact, I’d never even heard of him,” Cruse said.When it was time, they teed off No. 18 – a short par 5. Both bogeyed the hole, but Cruse had to sink a 5-footer to force another hole.They played 18 again and both scored pars. Grubbs had a chance to win, but his birdie attempt from 20 feet was short.On No. 15, Cruse chipped to within three feet of the pin on his second shot. That forced Grubbs to hole out from the fringe for a birdie. It was short, opening the door for Cruse.He walked through it with a short putt and a smile.
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