Li Wang of Eastlake, Kyle Cornett of Jackson and Frank Garber of Juanita return with dead aim on state championships May 21-22.
Last year, Li Wang and Kyle Cornett spent two days dueling for the Class 4A state boys golf championship. Frank Garber, meanwhile, was busy running away with the 3A title, posting one of the best scores in state history.
Later this month, all three will be at it again, marking the first time since 2000 both the 3A and 4A tournaments boast returning champions.
The 3A state boys tournament is at Tri-Mountain Golf Course in Ridgefield on May 21 and 22. Those same days, the boys 4A state tournament will be at Camas Meadows Golf Club in Camas.
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Several top finishers from last year’s tournaments return to comprise a pair of stacked fields, but three golfers will shape the battle for supremacy within the state.
Li Wang, senior, Eastlake
Wang was 10 when he first caught the eye of Pat Bangasser, the boys golf coach at Eastlake, in Sammamish. Whenever Bangasser went to Sahalee Country Club, rain or shine, he saw a small boy on the practice green working hour after hour on his short game.
“I call him the Gore-Tex King,” Bangasser said of Wang. “When a lot of other kids are snuggling by the fire doing their homework, he’s out hitting balls.”
That work ethic has served him well. During his first three seasons at Eastlake, the senior placed in the top 10 at the 4A state tournament three times. He has led the Wolves to back-to-back undefeated seasons. This August, he’ll play for Yale.
Yet one title has thus far escaped Wang: state champion.
“I just need to want to win it more than before,” said Wang, who finished second in state each of the past two years after placing eighth as a freshman. “I feel like this year, it’s my tournament to win.”
Last season’s runner-up finish was particularly painful. Wang was two strokes off the lead after the first round, but could never narrow the margin on the final day.
“I missed three or four putts within five feet,” Wang said. “That kind of did me in.”
If Wang wants to put the capstone on his career, he’ll have to dethrone a familiar face.
Kyle Cornett, senior, Jackson
Cornett was the golfer who held off Wang last year and left with the 4A state title. Impressive, considering he started taking the game seriously fewer than five years earlier.
Growing up, Cornett played baseball, then soccer. He didn’t compete in his first golf tournament until he was 13, and didn’t focus on the sport until a year later. Like Wang, his rapid rise was aided by a devotion to the driving range.
“I was very intense with my practice,” Cornett said. “I had really high expectations for myself.”
Cornett’s coach at Jackson of Mill Creek, Jim Anderson, who has also coached football and basketball, backs it up.
“He’s one of the most intense players I have ever coached,” Anderson said.
At last year’s state tournament, Cornett missed a putt on 17 that would have all but clinched the victory. Knowing the state championship would come down to the final hole, Cornett knocked his final drive down the middle of the fairway.
“Kyle just loves the pressure,” Anderson said. “He wants to be the guy that has to make a 12-foot putt on the first hole of sudden death.”
Frank Garber, junior, Juanita
Garber, though only a sophomore, took the suspense out of the boys 3A state tournament last May, posting the best two-day score in tournament history. He shot 70 on the first day and 65 on the second to win by eight strokes.
It didn’t exactly come as a surprise.
Garber has been winning golf tournaments since he was 6. Last summer, he placed 13th in his age group at the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego. He has won the KingCo title the past two seasons, and as a freshman took home the district title and placed 10th at state.
He’s at his best at the Washington Junior Golf Association state championship.
“Fred Couples won it once,” said David Friedman, Garber’s coach at Juanita in Kirkland, about one of the premier amateur events in the state. “Frank’s won it four times.”
This year, Garber will try to become the first player since 2000 to repeat as 3A state champion. Pressure? Perhaps.
“My mind is just geared toward staying patient,” he said. “That’s just the way I am. That’s kind of what gives me an edge over other players.”
Friedman hopes that demeanor will lead Garber to another state championship.
“Frank’s taught me more than I’ve taught him,” Friedman said. “Just to play smart, play one hole at a time, and play your best. And if he plays his best, he’ll be there at the end.”