Matt Hedges believes he has pinpointed the moment his 2012 state championship bid went up in flames. He was sitting in his motel room, reflecting on a fantastic opening round, his mind swimming with possibilities.
A few hours earlier, Hedges put the finishing touches on a four-over par 76 at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, a score that landed him fifth on the Class 5A boys golf leaderboard, four strokes off the pace set by Chase Lamothe of Corvallis. Anticipating an even stronger Round 2, Hedges declared: "I could win state."
"And, that just kind of threw it all off," he said.
Who: Ashland High boys junior golfer finished in a three-way tie for ninth place at the 2012 Class 5A State Championships. He has earned medalist honors in all but one tournament so far this season.
Up Next: Hedges and his Grizzlies teammates will be at Eagle Point Golf Club today competing in the District 1 tournament. Only the top two teams and top five individuals will advance to the state championships.
Quote: "I learned that I can't look forward to the end goal. I have to stay in the present. I just have got to go one shot at a time."
Hedges shanked and hooked his way through a 10-over par 82 the following day, dropping out of contention and into a three-way tie for ninth place. Not bad at all for a sophomore, but below the expectations he had buried himself under the previous night. The lesson? Don't get ahead of yourself.
"I learned that I can't look forward to the end goal," said Hedges, who did take home all-state honors. "I have to stay in the present. I just have got to go one shot at a time."
Now a more seasoned junior, Hedges' first shot to get back to state comes today at Eagle Point Golf Club, where the Grizzlies will be competing against Bend, Eagle Point, Mountain View, Redmond and Summit in the District 1 championships. Ashland is scheduled to tee off at 11 a.m.
Hedges has been golfing since he was seven years old. At first, it was just a fun thing to do with his dad, but by age 10 he was good enough to start entering local junior tournaments. He was still scrawny, probably leaning on his short game, but that all changed after a growth spurt that stretched him to 6-foot-1, providing leverage and power. He's a receiver and a defensive back for the Ashland football team and now, thanks in part to work done in the weight room, a heavy hitter for the boys golf team, capable of 300-plus-yard drives (his most impressive rip, he claims, soared about 340 yards).
Hedges is a terror with his irons as well. He can drive his 5-iron about 210 yards, and anything within 120 yards means wedge time.
But Hedges' says his best attribute is his uncanny ability to scramble out of trouble.
"If I find myself in a bad situation I can usually get myself out of it," he said.
That requires a deft touch with an assortment of wedges — Hedges carries four — and consistent putting. But it also demands something else which can elude even the most technically proficient golfer: the right temperament. That's not a problem for Hedges, who's as even-keeled as they come.
"Probably his biggest strength is his attitude," Ashland boys golf coach Paul Finwall said of Hedges, who earned medalist honors in all but one of Ashland's regular season tournaments. "He's got a really objective way of taking emotions out of play. Matt seems to be able to put (mistakes) out of his mind, and that's really key to playing 70's golf."
Seventies golf is what will likely be required of Hedges at the two-day district tournament in order to advance to state. Only the top two teams and top five individuals qualify for the 5A main event, which will be held May 13-14 at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis.
Hedges says his average score is about 75, but he's got low-70s potential every time he hits the course.
That will be a challenge this week, and not just for Hedges. Eagle Point features all the sharply-placed hazards and sneakily shrinking fairways typical of a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course. Hedges knows it well, but not well enough to start throwing out final-score predictions. It's gorgeous to look at, no doubt, with its rolling hills and stunning views of Mount McLaughlin, but it also has some bite.
"It's a very unique course and it's easy to get in trouble there, all the water hazards and everything," Hedges said. "But I just have to stay focused.
"I feel like my chances are pretty good, but I don't want to look forward. I've been trying to teach myself to stay in the present and not look forward to what's ahead."
Daily Tidings sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.