BIG HORN — Lamont Clabaugh refers to golf as a bit of a forgotten sport. That is not necessarily a bad thing, though.
The Big Horn High School head coach likes the low-key atmosphere and general friendliness of the sport. Even in most competitions, the sport brings relative tranquility because most of the people on the course are players and coaches. Golfers from different schools play together with little hostility or intense rivalries.
“You don’t have a crowd cheering or parents yelling at the refs,” Clabaugh said. “It’s just a bunch of kids out socializing and having fun and playing golf against each other.”
Big Horn practices have a similarly relaxed vibe. The team has nine golfers this year — eight boys and one girl — a larger number than in years past but still a small group. Clabaugh was encouraged by the fact that there are four freshman golfers, which he credited to the local junior golf programs for increasing the sport’s popularity.
One of those newcomers, Hayden Tellez, has particularly helped the team’s scoreboard. Tellez already has several top-10 finishes and said the season has gone better than he hoped thus far. Although he is a freshman, Tellez has been golfing for almost a decade, partly because his grandparents enjoyed the sport. Tellez works at Kendrick Municipal Golf Course, so he practiced there a lot over the summer.
Sophomore Matt Melin has a few top-10 finishes as well. Melin always wanted to try the sport but didn’t really pick it up until last year. He took an immediate liking to it and enjoys meeting new people. If he is playing poorly, Melin will sometimes joke around with competitors to help himself relax.
Therein lies a crux of golf: it can be enjoyable and low-stress but requires significant mental strength to perform well.
For this reason, Clabaugh said golf is the toughest sport for him to coach. During tournaments, Clabaugh walks around the course and checks in with the players, sometimes walking with them for a hole or two if necessary, but there is only so much a coach can do.
“There are so many things that can go wrong and you don’t know why they go wrong,” Clabaugh said.
“One bad shot, one bad hole can mess everything up, because you dwell on that,” Tellez said.
To stem potential disasters, Tellez focuses on positive reinforcement.
“(So) when you go up to your ball, you think that every shot’s going to be good and you don’t focus on your bad shots.”
Similarly, the head coach likes the individuality golf provides, although it can lead to more pressure because all the responsibility rests on each person.
“You’re responsible for your actions,” Clabaugh said. “For the most part, kids are just trying to better themselves.”
A small team allows Clabaugh to work individually with the players, which makes personal improvement more likely. The Rams placed sixth at the state competition as a team last year, but Clabaugh believes the boys team can finish in the top three this season because of the steady progress the team has shown so far.
Golf might be overlooked, but that is how the Big Horn team prefers it.