Rocky Mountain High

Within the next couple of days, Kyler Dunkle will travel to Pebble Beach, Calif., to prepare for the U.S. Amateur. And with that, his days as a Colorado resident will come to a close, at least for the time being.

But Dunkle, who has long called Parker and The Club at Pradera home, certainly went out on a high note.

In the same week the family home was sold, the 21-year-old claimed the CGA Amateur title on Sunday at Pinehurst Country Club in south Denver. And within the last five weeks, despite battling back problems, he’s also qualified in Fort Collins for the U.S. Amateur and finished ninth and earned low-amateur honors in the CoBank Colorado Open in Denver.

That’s what you call a run of good play.

“This feels great,” Dunkle said of winning the CGA Amateur. “It means a lot. It’s one of the bigger tournaments in Colorado that I had yet to make a run in. It’s fun. To have my name on the trophy with a lot of other really good players (including Hale Irwin, Steve Jones, Brandt Jobe, Bob Byman and Wyndham Clark), that will be a cool thing.

“Growing up in Colorado, this is the tournament that a lot of people want to win. This is where all the best players in the state play. So this definitely ranks up there near the top (of my golf accomplishments). I got to play with a bunch of really good players this week and it was really fun.”

Dunkle, who will soon be going into his final year on the University of Utah golf team, played nearly mistake-free golf on Sunday at the CGA Amateur, making just one bogey in shooting a 3-under-par 67. His 14-under 266 total for the week was good for a two-stroke victory.

“Really there wasn’t anything special about the (final) round,” Dunkle said. “It was just kind of keep plugging along and a couple of putts fell here and there. I wasn’t trying to force anything. I just stuck to my game plan. My dad(/caddie) and I talked about it every tee shot and hit driver as much as we could. We just went and found it and hit it from there.

“I had the same strategy the whole week. I was hitting driver as much as I could, trying to get as close to the green as I could (on par-4s and 5s). The thing that feels best (in my game) right now is my driver. The driver has always been a weapon because I hit the ball pretty far. Lately, I’ve been hitting it pretty straight and haven’t been getting into too much trouble. On a course like this that helped a lot because I was able to get pretty close to a lot of greens.”

It’s the third CGA championship for Dunkle, who has also won a CGA Western Chapter title and a CGA Parent/Child with dad Jason, who caddied for Kyler all this week at Pinehurst. Dunkle was also the CGA’s Les Fowler Player of the Year in 2016. (Kyler is pictured at top, and with Jason while walking off the 18th green on Sunday.)

University of Northern Colorado golfer Coby Welch, from The Links Golf Course, led by two after three rounds, and pulled even on Sunday with Dunkle with a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 15, where he very nearly holed out his approach shot.

But the par-5 16th proved pivotal. Welch’s tee shot ended up just in the right fairway bunker, but he had to stand outside of the sand, making for a somewhat-awkward approach from about 210 yards. He pulled the shot left of the green, then left his pitch short of the putting surface. His subsequent chip ran 15 feet by the hole, and when he missed that putt, he carded a bogey.

The long-hitting Dunkle, meanwhile, hit his second shot on the green, 40 feet past the flag, and two putted for birdie, accounting for a two-shot swing.

“I just got a little unlucky break (on 16),” said Welch (left). “The ball was 6 inches in the bunker right in front of the lip. I hit a decent shot out of there, then I got around the green and my short game got to me again. That’s been the case lately.

“I knew I could get that up and down (for birdie on 16). I’ve gotten (shots like that) up and down a thousand times. I didn’t have a great lie, but I hit two really bad chips. This tournament, I scored well, but my short game wasn’t very good.”

On 17, Dunkle’s tee shot finished well left of the green on the par-3, but he nestled his pitch down a slope to within two feet for par. He called that “one of the bigger moments for me.” And he made a routine par on 18 for the victory.

Welch, a former CGA Boys Junior Player of the Year, had made just one bogey combined on Friday and Saturday. But he had four on Sunday to go with three birdies, one of which was an improbable, big-breaking 60-footer on No. 10. He ended up shooting a 1-over-par 71 and finishing runner-up at 268.

“I didn’t play well. I didn’t clutch up when I needed to,” said Welch, who like Dunkle will play in the U.S. Amateur this month. “It’s unfortunate, but I just didn’t have my best today. I felt fine. To be honest I wasn’t even nervous. But I didn’t perform.

“You always want to finish first, but I’m glad Kyler won. He’s a good kid. If it wasn’t me, I’m glad it was him.”

Griffin Barela (left) of Bear Creek Golf Club made a run to get in contention, one stroke out of the lead with three holes left. But the University of Wisconsin golfer bogeyed the last three to shoot 69 and share third place at 271.

“Going into the day my goal was to try to get to 14 (under) to try to have a chance,” said Barela, who won a college tournament in April and finished 15th last Sunday at the CoBank Colorado Open. “I knew I was one back (after 15). Obviously I didn’t want to finish that way, but I’m happy with how I played this week. I wanted to give myself a chance to win, and I did that. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but it happens.”

At that 271 figure with Barela were Tyler Zhang of Lone Tree Golf Club (bogey-free final-round 66) and former Colorado State University golfer Dominic Kieffer (67 despite bogeying the last two).

Former University of Denver golfer Chris Korte of Littleton, competing in his final amateur event, encountered considerable tree trouble on Sunday, leading to a triple bogey and two doubles in his final 10 holes. Despite five birdies, he shot 74 and shared sixth place at 273 with Michael Tait of Raccoon Creek Golf Course (final-round 70).

Sunday’s win adds to Dunkle’s list of notable victories in Colorado, which also includes earning the title at the 2017 Mark Simpson Colorado Invitational college tournament and the 2012 5A state high school meet. Dunkle started his college career at CSU before transferring to Utah.
He’ll live in Salt Lake City for the time being, but plans to continue to play tournaments in Colorado in the future, ideally if plans pan out to turn pro late next spring.

But for now, he’s concentrating on making a run at the U.S. Am, which begins on Aug. 13. And why not, considering the way he’s been performing on the golf course lately?

“I’m definitely in a groove. I’ve been playing really good since the beginning of June,” Dunkle said.
For scores from the CGA Amateur, CLICK HERE.