By Brett Marshall
Sion Audrain received an early introduction into the world of high-level tournament golf.
By the time he had reached the age of 10, he had played in multiple national youth golf championships from Florida to California and parts in between.
So it came as no surprise when he arrived at Garden City High School for his freshman season in 2016 that he would be one of the key components of a strong Buffaloes’ boys golf team. Then, Taylor Larsen and Logan Durst were upperclassmen teammates, and Audrain fit in comfortably into the GCHS varsity lineup.
An 18th-place individual finish with a score of 78 by Audrain helped the Buffs to a fifth-place team finish at Manhattan Country Club. During his sophomore season of 2017, Audrain’s game to a giant leap forward as he shot a brilliant 2-under-par 70 at Auburn Hills Golf Club in Wichita, tying for the low round of the day before capturing Class 6A medalist honors with a sudden-death playoff win over Thomas Luger of Shawnee Mission East. The Buffs’ team was fourth.
In 2017, with a mostly underclassmen lineup that lacked the same experience of Larsen and Durst, Audrain once again demonstrated he was among the top players in Kansas by placing fourth with a 1-over-par 73 at Ironhorse Golf Course in Olathe. The Buffs’ team would finish seventh.
Now, Audrain who will graduate in a few weeks and then take his golf game to Lawrence and the University of Kansas (he signed in November), has his sights set on a second individual title as well as hoping to lead the Buffs to a high team finish.
“This year, I’m just trying to make sure I peak at the right time,” Audrain said recently. “When I won the tournament my sophomore year, it was one of my big goals when I got to the high school level. My junior year was good, but not great, so I want to go out with a stronger finish.”
This year’s 18-hole, one-day state tournament (it will be a two-day, 36-hole championship in 2020), will be played at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, a course Audrain has played numerous events, including a season-opening tourney where he captured low round honors with an even-par 72 on a less than desirable weather day.
“I’m glad it (state) is at a tough course,” Audrain said of Sand Creek Station. “I think it’s a course that will favor the better players so you just have to focus and eliminate any potential bad holes.”
Audrain recalled his freshman season as a learning curve for high school golf.
“It’s much different than the summer tournaments I’ve played in,” Audrain said. “Sometimes the rounds are longer, and I didn’t think I played too good at state. I think I was a little nervous coming into high school golf. It felt like an awfully big plate and I think the nerves got the best of me that year.”
Audrain, like most tournament-tested golfers, is not a big fan of the one-day, 18-hole state, and wishes he would have been able to play in a 36-hole state meet.
“In 18 holes, it’s just about who gets the hottest, and gets it going,” Audrain said. “You can have one bad hole in 18 holes and it will wreck your chances. In a two-day event, you’ve got a better chance of getting some of the shots back.”
Audrain said he is just trying to stay focused on his game, and not think too much about what’s at stake when they head to Newton in mid-May.
“I know I’ve got the game to win it,” he said. “My ball-striking has improved and I’m about 30 yards further , and I think my emotions don’t get the best of me now. I’m hitting 15 to 16 greens each round rather than 8 or 9, so I’ve just got to have my putter warm up and I’ll have a good chance of being right there.”
When Audrain won the 2017 Class 6A state, he joined Cole Wasinger as the only male golfer to win an individual state title. Mackenzie Thayer accomplished the same in 2011 when she won the 6A state. No individual has won twice.
Last summer, Audrain perhaps claimed his biggest prize when he won the prestigious Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship, matching the accomplishment of former Garden City High School golfer Sean Thayer who won the KGA event in 1999.
With several underclassmen on the varsity roster, Audrain said he has been more of a leader than in past seasons.
“We’ve got some talented freshmen who are going to be really good,” Audrain said of Theo Juhl, Jack Koksal and Aaron Allen. “They’re gonna be really tough over the next few years. I’ve tried to help them some with their swings, and it’s been fun spending time with them at practice.”
Audrain’s early season success also included shooting 4-under-par at his home course of Buffalo Dunes to claim individual honors. He then tacked on a 2-under-par 69 at Smoky Hill Country Club in Hays (another win), and then shot 72-70—142, 2-under-par, at the Edmond, Okla. North Invitational, tying for fifth in a field of 121 golfers, all of them from Oklahoma except the Garden City contingent.
Audrain said his academic plans for Kansas include studying business side of finance and marketing. His father, Shawn, owns a local automobile dealership and the younger Audrain said he has learned a lot from his dad.
Audrain also said he has enjoyed playing for new GCHS coach Trent Specht, himself a former high school standout at Southwestern Heights, and then played collegiately for four years.
“He’s played the game and pushes us hard in practice,” Audrain said. “He gets us what we need. He upgraded our schedule and I think he’s the reason we’re gonna be good for several years.”
With only a few tournaments and weeks remaining in his high school career, Audrain said he just wants to know that he gave it his best effort when the curtain finally falls on what has been one of the top high school careers in golf in GCHS history.