Red Mountain golf chasing state title

From left: Evan Bryan, Sean Moore, Marcus Guzman, BEAR, coach Ryan Campos, Carter Wilkes, and Ului Fotu are all part of the Red Mountain golf program that aims to stay on track toward a potential championship this season.

It’s one of the few sports that practices and competes off-campus, with players donning collared shirts and a pair of shorts for a uniform.

Golf in high school is an extremely unique realm, but Arizona has become the perfect setting for teams like Red Mountain to flourish, no matter who is at the helm.

Opened in 1988, Red Mountain won its first golf state title only seven years into the school’s existence. The 1995 season was the beginning of the program’s impressive history, with a total of nine state championships as of this year.

The last time Red Mountain hoisted a banner for golf was in 2013, but the current players have not lost any appreciation for the program they are leading now. Senior Carter Wilkes knew since seventh grade that he wanted to be a Mountain Lion.

“I didn’t know anything about the golf thing, I just knew they were a really good program and that I wanted to be a part of it,” Wilkes said.

The man that sold Wilkes on joining the program was Frank Campos.

Since taking over the program in 2016, Campos had one goal in mind, to get to a point of competing for state championships every year. Otherwise known as consistency.

The three previous seasons, however, were led by three different coaches, which can cause a lot of ups and downs.

“When I came here, my expectation was to be here for the long haul, and hopefully create some stability in the program that we were lacking a few years before,” Campos said.

One difficult part of running a smooth program without many setbacks is the constant talent turnover.

With losing seniors every year, it forces a coach to put forth effort with the younger players just as much as he does with the starters.

“On every team, every personality is different, and everybody brings something else to the table that makes them unique,” Campos said.

One of the underclassmen who has received attention from his coach and teammates is sophomore Sean Moore.

He started playing golf just over a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced many families to find a new way to enjoy their time together outside – or, for the most part, inside – of the home. Golf has always been there for his family. But for him, it was something new.

“Golf has always been in the family, but I didn’t start picking it up until Covid started,” Moore said.

Less than two years in, Moore is already thinking about how golf can be a part of his future.

There are older students on the team currently searching for destinations to play at the next level, giving Moore an idea on how to pursue the same goal when he is in their shoes.

The Mountain Lions do not lack any veteran leadership, which is another strategy to combat the loss of athletes. Wilkes discussed what it is like to witness the difference between coming in as a freshman, to being a leader to the younger golfers.

“They love the game as much as I did, but they bring new aspects to it,” he said. “When I was a freshman, it was all about who could hit the longest drive. Now, we see Sean, and he’s all about that short game. Dude has the best short game I’ve ever seen.”

As a freshman grows in the program, encouragement from upperclassmen can prepare them to take over when the seniors move on to bigger things. Wilkes explained the tournament style, tee box location and playing within a team can be some of the biggest adjustments entering the high school game. He tries to show them what it takes.

All golf-related activities being off-campus is a difficult reality for high school athletes, but it can also bring new opportunities that few will experience at that age. Such as out-of-state tournaments.

Red Mountain has participated in three tournaments outside of Arizona in the last four years. The global pandemic stopped high school sports almost entirely in the spring of 2020, but before that, they played in tournaments in Texas back-to-back years. This season, the team went to Florida.

The experience is second to none, as playing in different conditions is a big part of taking golf to the next level, and Campos wants to give them every opportunity.

“We have to show coaches everywhere that if one of our golfers gets to a big-time school they can adjust,” Campos said. “The weather conditions are just something we usually don’t have to deal with in Arizona, so giving the kids that chance is why we travel.”

Oddly enough, the journey home proved much more difficult than the tournament itself in Florida.

With a layover in Texas, the team’s connecting flight to Phoenix was canceled, along with thousands of other Southwest flights across the country.

The coaches wasted no time getting back for the next week of school, renting a 14-person van and trekking the final 14 hours home in one drive. Ending a quick, but stressful experience for the golfers and their parents.

“My mom just wanted to make sure I was going to be back for school on time,” Moore said. “It was a great bonding experience, though, all of us in a car together having a good time.”

The culture for the golf program this year is centered around motivating each other on and off the course. It’s paid off so far in impressive showings out of state, and they hope to keep that going when the state tournament rolls around on Nov. 3-4.

“The thing about our team this year is we got five guys that can play, and so if one isn’t having a great day, you’ve got four other dudes that got his back right there,” Wilkes said. “And that’s something we try to incorporate in practice, if one guy is gone, the rest need to step up.”

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