By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Shooting best when scores count most, Empire high school golfers Frank Euphrat, Mike O'Daniel and Richard Chong qualified Monday for the section championships, but no region teams emerged to play on.
Euphrat, the Cardinal Newman low scorer on the season, Analy ace O'Daniel and Chong from Maria Carrillo finished among the top dozen individuals at the North Coast Section Div. 1 qualifier. Those golfers gained spots in the section Tournament of Champions on Monday.
The biggest Empire contingent — four teams and six individuals — played at the section Div. 2 Championships but none scored low enough to qualify for the section finals.
On a warm, calm day, the two events played much differently. While the small schools wrestled with tight and challenging Tilden Park Golf Course, in Berkeley, the large schools posted mostly low scores at Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro.
“It couldn’t have been a better day for the tournament. It was a great day,” Euphrat said.
While the Cardinal Newman golfer finished fifth among individuals qualifying for the section championships, two spots back was O'Daniel and Chong was another stroke back.
“It made me relaxed knowing I was playing on a good course. It was in great condition. The greens were rolling pure and true, the fairways were fantastic,” O'Daniel said. “It made me focus to play better.”
Coming off a win at the North Bay League finals a week ago, Euphrat continued improving with the putter, complementing strong iron play all season long.
“It took me awhile to get in a groove. I’m peaking now at the right time,” Euphrat said.
Despite playing a pair of rounds over the weekend at Monarch Bay, the Cardinals top golfer struggled at the start Monday. Euphrat was five shots over par on the first eight holes. Then he eagled the ninth hole and went even par over the back nine.
“That’s what kick-started my strong finish,” Euphrat said. “I try not to pay attention to my score. I just take it one shot at a time.”
After playing the section finals with the Cardinal Newman team a year ago, Euphrat is on his own at the Tournament of Champions at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton.
Joining Euphrat in the TOC are O'Daniel and Chong.
“The field is going to be very tough. I’m very excited, but very anxious,” O'Daniel said.
Playing best when the stakes are highest, O'Daniel has a good swing and steady putter going. After finishing fourth in the Sonoma County League finals, he was even better on Monday.
“That was my best round all season. It was a good time to have it,” he said.
In team scoring, the Empire did not advance a squad to the section finals with Maria Carrillo and Ukiah finishing outside the 10 teams that moved on.
In the small school championships, St. Vincent was low scorer among Empire teams, followed by Middletown, Healdsburg and Willits.
While the weather conditions were ideal, the always tough Tilden Park layout challenged even the best in the field. Only a handful of golfers shot a par round.
St. Vincent’s Evan Knight was the Empire’s low scorer with a three-over 73. Kasey Cazet shot 76 on the day, playing as an individual from Rincon Valley Christian.
"The course was in great shape, but tough. It's very hilly with tight fairways and difficult greens," said Healdsburg coach Grady Wann. "There are lots of places to get your self in trouble."