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Riley Christensen helps Harrisburg make history, winning first golf titles for Tigers

The Tigers freshman played steady golf down the stretch to become the first Harrisburg Class AA boys individual state champion, while helping with the team title, as well.

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Harrisburg's Riley Christensen sprints over to his teammates after making his final putt in the final round of the Class AA state boys high school golf tournament on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 at Lakeview Golf Course in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Riley Christensen is just a freshman for the Harrisburg Tigers golf team.

He looked well beyond his years in claiming the Class AA state golf individual title and powering the Tigers to a team crown on Tuesday at Lakeview Golf Course.

After shooting an opening-round 68, Christensen backed it up with an even-par 72, which was good to win by five strokes with a score of 140. Behind the efforts of Christensen, Harrisburg won the Class AA team title with a score of 587, finishing eight shots ahead of Pierre (595).

It is the individual state championship for Harrisburg boys golf since 2005, and the first team title for the Tigers, as well.

"I can't even process it yet," Christensen said. "As a freshman, it feels like so much more. You're not really supposed to win as a freshman."

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Harrisburg's Riley Christensen chips the ball onto the green at Hole No. 17 during the final round of the Class AA state boys high school golf tournament on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 at Lakeview Golf Course in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Christensen had three bogeys in his first seven holes on Tuesday but got one back at the par-3 No. 8 hole and then birdied the 13th hole to steady the lead from there. He birdied the 18th hole in front of a large gallery of participants and fans and then was mobbed by his teammates when the final group closed out the hole.

For the birdies on the back nine, Christensen said he knew he could close out the state title after he made par at the 12th hole, the uphill par-3, where he made a four-footer to remain at 2-under.

"I thought, 'Wow, I can go win a state championship,'" Christensen recalled. "I thought about it (on Monday) but then it actually starts to kick in."

A hot putter helped get Christensen to the lead and and the freshman said it was his driving that stood out on Tuesday to help him to the title.

Christensen said he tried to block out the messages coming to his phone on Monday night as he slept on the lead. He said he could feel the pressure, but indicated to his coach on the practice green on Tuesday morning that he was ready to win it.

"I was really nervous with that first tee shot," he said. "I had a slow start and then I got it going on the back nine."

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Harrisburg's Riley Christensen hits his approach shot at Hole No. 18 during the final round of the Class AA state boys high school golf tournament on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 at Lakeview Golf Course in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Harrisburg coach Mark Beckstrand, who has been the Tigers' coach since 1999, noted that Christensen has had a lot of success in Drive, Chip and Putt qualifiers and played in American Junior Golf Assocaition events, making him ready for the stage that a state meet involves.

"He has an all-around good game," Beckstrand said. "He just doesn't lack confidence and he might have a bogey but it doesn't get him down."

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Teammate Hayden Scott finished in a tie for fourth place with a 3-over 147, while Parker Schultz was tied for seventh at 149 over 36 holes. The Tigers' starting lineup in Mitchell for the state meet consisted of three juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen.

"From Saturday in our practice round through the week, we had a lot of confidence coming in," Beckstrand said. "Everything clicked right for us this week. ... We knew we had the talent."

Watertown, which was one of the pre-tournament favorites, finished third with a score of 596, including Tuesday's low team score of 287. O'Gorman was fourth at 599, followed by Mitchell (624) and Brandon Valley (638).

Jake Olson, the 2021 Class AA champion, rebounded from an opening-round 77 to shoot a 4-under-68 on Tuesday to finish in second place alone at 1-over for the tournament. O'Gorman's Radley Mauney, who shot 76 on Monday, shot 70 on Tuesday and finished at 2-over and in third place.

Related Topics: PREP SPORTS
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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