Squalicum boys’ golfer Tavo O’Connell was hovering around the cut line after the first day of districts. He was cruising along until the last five holes, when his putting started to falter. A triple bogey on the last hole put him at an 81.
He had to come out on day two and erase that triple bogey by shooting low if he had any hopes of ending his senior year with a trip to the Class 2A State Championships.
“I took it as a challenge,” O’Connell said in a phone interview. “I knew what I had to do to make it.”
And he went out, shot a 76 — one off his season best — and qualified for state, which takes place on Wednesday, May 27, and Thursday, May 28, at Liberty Lake Golf Course in Spokane.
“My sophomore year I shot a similar score on the first day of districts and came out and shot a worse score and didn’t make it to the tournament,” O’Connell said. “Just my maturity and knowledge and having confidence in my game was the difference.”
Now the goal for O’Connell is to make the cut at state and “go out with a bang,” he said. Last year, he fell short of the second day by seven strokes.
And anyone whose played with the Storm golfer is probably rooting for him.
“I think and I believe other coaches think he’s one of the most likeable players in our league,” Storm coach Jeff Tetrick said in a phone interview. “His character on the course and his relationship with other players is great. He’s somebody anyone can talk to. He always has a great attitude and this competitive fire.”
That mentality has trickled down to the other Squalicum golfers, and is a reason why O’Connell will be joined by Tanner Griffiths at state and Brandon Weeda nearly made it.
It’s the reason O’Connell has been a captain since his sophomore year.
He has a passion for the game and wants to share that with everyone.
“I definitely go to the course smiling. I see a lot of the guys I’ve played with since Washington Junior Golf Association and it’s a lot of fun,” O’Connell said. “I just try to bring a positive energy and be a leader for the rest of the team. If I’m playing with a younger kid, I’m not there to make him shoot worse, just to have fun. High school golf is about having fun.”
But nobody should mistake O’Connell as a friendly leader with no golf game.
The senior has greatly improved in his final year, finding more accuracy and distance off the tee, as he now drives it between 310 and 325 yards — one of the longest in the conference — giving him the ability to attack par 5s and take shorter wedges into par 4s.
Also added to his resumè this season: a hole-in-one.
On April 30 at Homestead Golf Course, everything was going well for O’Connell — he was having one of his best rounds. On the 118-yard 16th hole, he noticed some wind and clubbed up to his pitching wedge. He made his swing and watched it go.
“It felt right,” O’Connell said. “It was kind of a surreal moment.”
On the other side of the hole was Bellingham coach David Bobillot, who let out a yell. O’Connell flug his hands up in the air, high-fived his playing partners and marked down a one on the scorecard.
While he isn’t expecting any hole-in-ones at state, O’Connell is expecting a strong first day to make the cut.
“This year I just have much more confidence in my game and know what has to be done,” O’Connell said. “I know I can shoot a low enough score to get to the second day.”
Last year the cut was 86, O’Connell definitely has the talent to top that.
After state, the Storm will bid farewell to O’Connell, who is going to the University of Washington to study international business. He said he won’t play golf for the Huskies but will always keep playing for fun.
“I see Tavo as someone I can play golf with the rest of my life,” Tetrick said.
He’s just that kind of guy.