CHEYENNE – Michael Pope had flirted with breaking par during an 18-hole golf round, but could never break through.
His father, Matthew, and older brother, Quintin, had both shot under par. Michael figured it was merely a matter of time before he joined the club, but that didn’t keep his impatience from building.
The Cheyenne East senior only frustrated himself more when he put together rounds like the one he did on the final day of the Wyoming State Amateur Championship at the Cheyenne Country Club. Pope birdied the final hole of that round to get to even-par 72. Four bogeys – including one on the penultimate hole – kept Pope from reaching his goal.
“I was always wondering when I was finally going to do it,” he said. “I was kind of mad about the way the State Am ended because I thought that was finally going to be the day.”
Pope only had to wait 14 more days to reach his goal, though.
He didn’t record his first sub-par round by merely scratching out a 1-under 69 during the final round of the 63rd Tyrrell Wyoming State Open at the Airport Golf Club. Pope fired a 6-under 64 to tie for first in his amateur flight at 4-over 214 after 54 holes.
Pope started the day on Hole No. 10, and was 1-under after his first nine holes.
“I got on to the front nine and decided that it was an entirely new round, and tried to play like I was even-par,” he said.
Pope birdied four of his first five holes on the front nine to get to 5-under.
“I was starting to get comfortable and feel invincible,” he said.
He was brought back down to earth when his drive on Hole No. 6 clipped a low-hanging tree branch and ricocheted into a trouble area. However, Pope was able to knock the ball back onto the fairway, hit his chip shot within 15 feet and save par.
“That was the biggest moment of the round,” Pope said. “I could have made a big number there. That’s where my mental game was its best. I let that first bad shot go, and just hit my next shot.”
Pope hopes the confidence he gained from that round helps him have the best season of his high school career.
Thunderbirds coach Paul Hartigan called Pope’s mental approach the strength of his game.
“He is so even-keel and never gets too high or too low,” Hartigan said. “If he has a bad hole, he can brush it off. That’s huge for a high school golfer. A lot of them let one bad hole affect them four or five holes down the line.
“He also does a good job of staying level when he is playing great, like he did in the final round of the Wyoming Open.”
Pope grew up playing the sport. He enjoyed it, but wasn’t fond of practicing. It wasn’t until spring of his freshman year that he grew to appreciate laboring away on the short game areas and practice greens.
It helped that he saw the fruits of those labors during a breakout spring season that saw him regularly crack the top 10. He carried that momentum into the fall and placed seventh at the Class 4A state tournament as a sophomore. He improved to fourth in the state during his junior campaign.
“I knew practicing was what was going to help me get better,” he said. “I wanted to win a team state title and contribute to the team. I also wanted to be the best I could.”
East was the runner-up in the team race at the past two state tournaments. It lost Blake Danni – a two-time individual state champion – and Tristen Zitek to graduation, but Pope is one of the reason’s Hartigan thinks the T-Birds stand a “puncher’s chance” of bringing home a trophy.
“(Pope) is almost always in the top 10 at regular tournaments, but he plays his best when the stage is the biggest,” the coach said. “He has done that the past two years, and I expect him to do it again this fall.”