STERLING – In a 15-minute span Wednesday afternoon, the tail end of the front nine at Emerald Hill Golf Course became a bird sanctuary.
The Sterling golf team’s Ryan Hurley and Kyle Sinn combined to card an eagle and two birdies over two holes, driving the Golden Warriors past rival Rock Falls, 160-164.
The wild thing? Hurley nearly bagged two rare birds on as many holes.
He mashed his drive down the heart of the fairway on the 508-yard, par-5 seventh hole, then striped his approach from about 200 yards out, leaving himself a 25-foot putt for eagle. But his try curled from left to right a little too late and slid past the hole.
But he planted his second-shot approach on the right fringe on the 460-yard, par-5 eighth hole, then rolled a downhill, right-to-left-tilting 20-footer into the cup. In 15 minutes, he went from 4-over to 1-over en route to a 2-over, medalist-worthy 38. Trevor Sisson shot 39, Sinn 40 and Austin Cook 43 to round out Sterling’s scores.
Hurley admits he didn’t think the fringe putt was makeable, considering the mud that was globbed onto his ball.
“I was just looking to put it close down there and tap in for birdie,” Hurley said. “That was a nice extra.”
So credit the grounds crew, right?
“Oh yeah, for keeping it wet out here, right?” Hurley said.
Seconds later, Sinn bended a downhill putt from a couple of feet above the hole. It kept crawling, twisting from right to left, and Sinn spoke to it with some body language to coax it home.
“I had to twist the body a little to get it to roll that way,” Sinn said.
What a difference a hole makes. Sinn’s walk of shame on No. 7 delayed Hurley’s putt by almost 10 minutes. He tugged an iron left from well right of the fairway, and the dry earth allowed it to skitter out of bounds.
So Sinn walked about 150 yards back to hit his fifth.
“It is a long walk back, and you want to hurry up and get back and hit it, because there’s guys on the green,” Sinn said. “Everyone’s waiting for you. It’s awkward.”
But he nearly cupped his chip on his sixth, and felt as good as one can after carding a 7. See: his performance on No. 8.
“Kyle came back and kind of defined that moment,” Sterling coach C.J. Wade said.
Hurley and Sinn went from two combined strokes in the wake of their playing partners, Andrew Tichler and Trace Hippen, to being one up. Tichler, who was even through four after carding a birdie on No. 1, scrambled down the stretch but took a double on No. 9. He went for it on a 35-foot par putt, perhaps knowing the Rockets suddenly had multiple strokes to make up.
“I left way too many strokes out there,” Tichler said. “A double on the last hole, the snap hook on No. 8, those shouldn’t happen. But you can’t take them back now.”
Whereas Tichler struggled down the stretch to a 4-over 40, Hippen was 1-over on the last eight holes after double-bogeying No. 1 to card a 39. He chipped in for birdie on No. 2.
“That felt pretty good, and it got me back on track. Helped me relax,” Hippen said.
"Trace played really well," Tichler said. "He knew to put the driver away – hit an iron or a hybrid – to keep the ball on the fairway."
But seeing the monster putts on No. 8 was unnerving.
“It was pretty pivotal, for them to hit some pretty deep putts for eagle and birdie,” Hippen said. “Those two putts changed everything.”
Chip-in: Sinn was sure to give a shout-out to golf course superintendent Jake Brooks after. The course’s fairways continue to glimmer like emeralds, despite the oppressive heat.
“It’s beautiful out here,” Sinn said. “In my opinion, it’s the best course we’ve played. There’s no way they can keep it this green all year.”
After missing Saturday's Rock Falls Invite – which came down to a sixth-golfer tiebreaker that went Sterling's way – with a pulled hamstring, senior Trevor Sisson carded a 39 Wednesday, the second-best score of the dual.