HAVING FUN: Temple senior Moon carves out 1-under 71, charges into 6A state tourney medal contention
RIGHT ON TARGET: Temple senior Daniel Moon hits his tee shot on the par-3 eighth hole to within 7 feet during the first round of the UIL Class 6A state tournament Monday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. Moon made an eagle, four birdies and nine pars en route to a 1-under-par 71, sharing seventh place with five players. The District 12-6A champion and Sam Houston State signee, who tied for 38th in his state debut last year at Legacy Hills, trails leader Garrett Endicott of San Antonio Clark by three strokes. Moon tees off for the final round at 8 a.m. Tuesday on the first hole. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
GEORGETOWN – Golf is not a game of perfection, and Temple senior Daniel Moon certainly exemplified that on a warm, humid Monday during the first round of the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state tournament.
In his second consecutive state appearance at Legacy Hills Golf Club, Moon produced many glorious highs: a well-struck 7-iron through swirling wind on the long par-3 16th hole, leading to a birdie; a 160-yard, uphill shot from gnarly weeds that set up a birdie at the par-4 fifth; and most notably a flushed 6-iron approach from 235 yards on the par-5 seventh, punctuated by rolling in a 25-foot putt for eagle, with Moon walking toward the cup well before the ball disappeared.
He also experienced several disappointing lows: missing the green from 100 yards out in the middle of the No. 6 fairway, then three-putting for his only double bogey in three rounds at state; being unable to make a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth; and three-putting from 50 feet on a challenging green at the par-4 ninth to finish with a bogey.
But true to his customary steady persona, Moon took all the twists and turns and ups and downs in stride and kept everything in perspective as he shot a 1-under-par 71 to share seventh place at the halfway point, three strokes off the lead.
In his final event as a Wildcat, the 17-year-old Sam Houston State signee simply wants to play his best golf and have fun – regardless of what he shoots and where he finishes.
“I had a lot of fun out there. My front nine was a little bit more relaxing than the back nine, but I managed to salvage a few holes on the back nine after a few missed shots,” said Moon, the District 12-6A champion and the first Temple boys golfer to compete in the UIL state tournament. “I just wanted to have a good time out here and find some satisfaction in the round, and that’s exactly what happened today. I look forward to having another one of these rounds tomorrow.”
Moon made an eagle, four birdies and nine pars to offset one double bogey and three bogeys on the 6,989-yard course. He will tee off in the final round at 8 a.m. Tuesday on the par-4 first hole, playing alongside fellow medalists in Richardson Pearce junior Preston Stout (70) and Keller senior Kaelen Dulany (71).
They’ll try to track down San Antonio Clark senior medalist Garrett Endicott, who fired a 68 to take a one-shot lead over Keller senior Daniel Choi, son of longtime PGA Tour player K.J. Choi. Joining Stout in a four-way tie for third with 70s are Zach Kingsland of team leader Austin Westlake, Brian Comegys of Austin Lake Travis and Plano West’s Matt Comegys.
Moon and Dulany share seventh place with four players who shot 71: Westlake’s Sean-Karl Dobson, Leander Vandegrift’s Andrew Tan, Houston Memorial’s Charlie Wylie and Bowen Ballis of The Woodlands College Park.
Defending state champion Westlake compiled a 1-under 287 total to build a 12-stroke lead over Plano West, with Mansfield and The Woodlands tied for third at 303.
One year after Moon shot rounds of 75 and 76 in his state debut at Legacy Hills to tie for 38th place with Belton then-senior Dallas Hankamer, Temple fourth-year coach Allen Roark had high marks for how his four-year standout performed and persevered.
“I think the experience of last year made Daniel a little more comfortable this year. He knew what to expect and what he was going to need to shoot to be in contention, and he did that today,” Roark said. “Hopefully he’s satisfied with it, because 1 under at the 6A state championship after the first day isn’t bad. If he’s close, he’s got a real shot. Head-to-head, he’s tough to beat. He’s got a real shot.
“He’s never nervous. His strength is he doesn’t feel the pressure,” Roark added about Moon, who won multiple-hole sudden-death playoffs to gain Region II’s final individual state berth the last two years Bear Ridge in Waco. “That double he made, he’d like to have that one back, I’m sure. But that was his only real blip.”
Moon beat each of his playing partners – Katy Tompkins senior Colt Tenpenny and Smithson Valley sophomore Anniston McIlwain – by eight strokes.
“I was just really focused on my own game,” Moon said. “I didn’t pay too much attention to what the others were doing.”
Moon said afterward that he didn’t eat any breakfast before his 8 a.m. tee time because his stomach felt unsettled. If the 5-foot-8, 130-pound Moon was battling nervousness, it didn’t really show on his opening hole, the par-5 10th.
After his long second shot found the large bunker right of the green, Moon deftly blasted out of the sand from 50-plus feet away to get his ball within 4 feet on the cup. He made the putt for birdie, setting the tone for his first under-par round at state.
“That was a confidence builder. You start to gain more confidence when you see more balls go into the hole,” said Moon, who had approximately a dozen followers in the gallery. “That was a really good start to the day.”
He followed that with two pars before absorbing his first blemish, missing a 4-foot par putt on the par-4 13th to drop back to even par. Moon made his move by playing the final five holes of his first nine in a combined 2 under to post a 2-under 34 on Legacy Hills’ back nine.
Moon’s tee shot on the par-3 16th was arguably his best swing of the day. With the breeze helping but swirling, his pure 7-iron shot from 210 yards stopped 10 feet left of the flagstick and he rolled in the birdie putt to get back into red figures at 1 under.
SHARP SHORT GAME: Temple senior Daniel Moon chips onto the green at the par-5 18th hole, his ninth of the day, to set up a tap-in birdie putt during his 1-under-par 71 in Monday's first round of the UIL Class 6A state tournament at Legacy Hills in Georgetown. It was one of Moon's three birdies in his first nine holes as he posted a 2-under 34. The Sam Houston State signee is in a six-way share of seventh place, three shots behind the leader entering Tuesday's final round. Moon will tee off at 8 a.m. for the second straight day. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Moon got up and down for par after missing the green at the par-4 17th, then took advantage of the par-5 18th by ripping his long second shot pin-high, on the fringe left of the green. His well-judged chip stopped a foot from the hole, setting up a tap-in birdie to complete a stellar 2-under 34 for his first nine holes.
“In the beginning of the round I hit the driver very well,” Moon said. “I’ve practiced that (low-trajectory driver) shot for the past few weeks now, and it really paid off in today’s (breezy) weather conditions, especially in the beginning of the round where you really need those tight line drives in tight fairways.”
Moon’s steady play continued after he made the turn to the course’s front nine. He came up short of the green at the par-4 first, but his 50-foot pitch settled by the cup for a tap-in par. He had a good look at a 9-foot birdie putt at the par-4 second but it narrowly missed to the right, settling for another par.
However, the closing seven-hole stretch of Moon’s round could be described as a roller-coaster. He used a 2-iron off the tee at the par-5 third and pulled it left near a tree, and his third-shot iron missed the green to the left. His pitch rolled out to 15 feet and he came up short on the uphill par putt, carding a frustrating bogey.
“I’d say I deserved that bogey,” Moon said with a grin. “That was a tough hole. That green is so small. I didn’t get lucky with a lie and paid the price.”
But Moon’s short-game skills saved him on the ensuing hole, the par-3 fourth. His tee shot faded right and narrowly avoided the water hazard, then his wedge shot from 60 feet stopped within 8 feet, setting up a crucial par putt.
“I was walking up to that ball and was like, ‘Man, a par would change my back nine around,’” Moon said. “I managed to hit a pretty decent golf shot in there. I had the putt breaking about 4 inches outside the right and made it dead center. That was pretty nice.”
Moon summoned more well-timed wizardry on the par-4 fifth. His pulled drive was snagged by an area full of tall grass and weeds, leaving him in a less-than-ideal lie with a 160-yard uphill shot against the wind to a three-tiered green.
“I had a decent lie. I knew if I hit it hard enough past the flag it would come back. The front pin helped a lot,” Moon said. “I hit a punch 8-iron and knocked it down. My goal was just to get it up to the front.”
Weeds and grass flew through the air as Moon lashed his approach shot onto the green, 15 feet below the hole. He drained the slightly uphill putt for birdie, moving to 2 under.
“That was big,” he said.
Things changed quickly at the par-4 sixth. Moon hit a perfect 3-wood down the middle of the fairway to leave 100 yards in, but the outcome wasn’t nearly as positive as the shot itself.
“I was in a little bit of a divot. The ball was a little below my feet and I thought the heel was going to catch the ground first before I hit the ball, so I aimed a bit more right and the wind was coming off the right also, so I thought that would help it,” Moon explained. “And I just hit it dead straight, right where I aimed.
"I hit a bunch of quality golf shots. Some of them worked out; some of them didn’t.”
The ball rolled off the back of the green and down into a grassy hollow, leaving an extremely difficult recovery shot. Moon tried to bump a wedge shot into the bank to kill some of its speed, but it came out too hard and didn’t stop until 20 feet past the hole.
Moon nearly made the par putt but ran it 4 feet past the cup, then his short bogey putt burned the edge but didn’t drop. The missed green and three-putt gave Moon a rare double bogey, his first score worse than bogey in 51 career holes in the state tournament.
“I had pretty good confidence I was going to make that (bogey putt), but that’s golf,” Moon said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Obviously there’s going to be some shots that aren’t how you want them to be, but this game is so unpredictable that you can only do so much to make it predictable.”
Said Roark about his advice to Moon: “He doesn’t like to talk too much during his round, so I leave him alone as much as possible. Like after that double, I said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He doesn’t need any more than that.”
Moon said he gave himself a quick pep talk between the sixth green and the tee box for the seventh, a reachable par-5 that lends itself to low scores.
“Looking back on what happened on hole 6, walking up to the tee on No. 7 I was going, ‘Let’s make a birdie on this one and just act like nothing (bad) happened, like we parred out,’” Moon recalled.
Back to even par for his round, Moon hit a long drive into the left semi-rough, leaving him 235 yards to the hole and needing to carry his ball over a massive fairway bunker.
With a helping wind, Moon launched a 6-iron just to the left of the flag and the ball rolled out to 25 feet to set up a putt for a pivotal eagle. The Temple star’s aim was true when he needed it to be, and he started confidently walking toward the cup when the ball was several feet from dropping, which it did to push Moon back to 2 under as the gallery applauded him.
“It was one of those putts where if you start it on line, it’s just going to stay on line,” Moon said. “That was definitely a good one to make. It felt really good.”
Added Roark about Moon’s bounce-back eagle: “That just shows you how solid he is and how mentally tough he is. To come back from a double and get an eagle, that’s maturity. Most kids may take a couple holes (to recover) or hope to par a couple holes.”
Moon’s crisp tee shot on the par-3 eighth was directly in line with the flagstick and came up only 7 feet short, but his bid for a fifth birdie missed on the left edge and he settled for par.
Moon ripped an iron off the tee at his final hole, the 357-yard par-4 ninth. He was in the middle of the fairway and 110 yards away, but his iron approach faded right and came to rest 50 feet from the hole. Moon needed to get his long birdie putt to climb a steep ridge about 8 feet from the cup, but it ran out of steam near the top of the incline. His par putt lipped out on the right side, leading to a bogey and an opening 71, four strokes better than his best state score a year ago.
Moon found it difficult to consistently figure out the greens at Legacy Hills.
“These greens, it’s so tricky to read them. You can read the break all you want, but then you’ve got to look at the grain and the grain plays a huge factor,” Moon said. “Like on No. 9, I hit (the first putt) hard. The second putt, the grain was moving toward that creek and it just didn’t take the break as much as it should have. The greens got a little bit faster as the day went on. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was enough to get recognized.”
Three strokes behind the leader and with six players ahead of him, Moon likely will need to shoot a 67 or 68 in Tuesday’s final round to have a realistic opportunity to win the tournament championship or at least earn a medal for a top-three finish.
Moon’s new approach this spring has focused on enjoying the game and the process of playing great golf more than the results themselves. Now that he’s gotten back to Legacy Hills and played his way into state contention, don’t expect Moon to change his strategy now.
“No target score tomorrow. Just whatever happens, happens,” he said before leaving in search of a good lunch. “I’m going to leave it all out there. It’s my last tournament and I’m just trying to have some fun."