It seems there are few people with more encyclopedic knowledge about Conquistador Golf Course than Blake Keetch. During the summer, the Montezuma-Cortez High School senior made the course his second home.
His silhouette would grace the late evening hours, wielding a pitching wedge and a bucket of range balls, out in search of every undulation long after most other players had headed home for the night. This week, Keetch and the Montezuma-Cortez golf team play in the state championships, fresh off their 3A Region 4 title. The senior earned the regional medalist honors at Aspen Golf Club, carding a 73 to edge fellow Panther freshman Thayer Plewe by a shot.
After play on Monday, Montezuma-Cortez was in a tie for 8th place, having posted a combined plus 32 on Day 1. Keetch paced the Panthers with a plus-5 77, which has him tied for eighth place individually.
It’s the fourth visit for Keetch, but this year takes a different tenor. For the first time in his career, he is part of a qualifying team with Plewe and junior JJ Brunner competing as a team in the 3A state championships. Having knocked off perennial power Aspen in the regional tournament, the Panthers enter the two-day, 36-hole competition on the Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Blue Course as one of the teams to watch.
It’s been a journey for the senior, working his way through rough patches through the course of his final campaign for the Panthers.
“It’s been a grind to get more comfortable in competition,” said Keetch, “but between junior year and now, I feel like I’ve been able to gain more confidence.”
That confidence has produced results, including what Keetch deemed his strongest performance of the season, a 1-under-par 71 to take third place in a loaded field at Delta’s Devil’s Thumb Golf Course. He also captured medalist honors at the Intermountain League Championships.
Yet, his ability to grind was what propelled him to the regional crown, even though things did not go as planned. Keetch rerouted his round after a 40 on the front nine, scorching the back nine in 33 on his way to the victory.
Getting pushed from his teammates, including the first-year standout Plewe, has only made Keetch better.
“It’s been great having other teammates who can go out and shoot low scores,” said Keetch. “We know that we’re going to play our best, and see where it places us.”
Keetch, who has steadily improved his state results, going from 19th as a sophomore to 15th a year ago, is excited for one more opportunity to take on the best golfers in the state.
“My first couple state appearances were about gaining experience, learning what it’s like to play in State,” reflected Keetch, “Now that I know how it feels, I’m prepared to compete at that level.”
Ultimately, Keetch knows that his success has been a product of the support from many different people, including his head coach and Conquistador head professional Micah Rudosky. “He’s such a knowledgeable coach,” said Keetch. “I’ve been fortunate to have his guidance.”
Keetch also enjoyed a memorable season on the hardwood this past winter, serving as key member of the backcourt that guided the M-CHS basketball team to the state tournament.
“I wouldn’t put one over the other,” said Keetch of comparing playing on the competition’s biggest stage in two different sports. “Both were awesome to be in.”
Meanwhile, Keetch, Plewe and Brunner know that their short game will be tested on the tough greens on the Eisenhower Blue Course. “We know the greens are very difficult, so we’ll have to take care of our putting.”
Regardless the outcome of his final tournament as a Panther, after four years and hundreds of fairways traversed, when he walks up the 18th fairway for the final time on Tuesday, Keetch leaves his mark as one of the all-time greats in Panthers golf history.