No time for second: Granite Hills’ Colton Painter was a two-time Valley qualifier and ESL champion

Colton Painter wanted to play basketball when he came to high school.

But with encouragement from his dad, Painter made a switch to golf and is now one of the top golfers in the Valley.

The Granite Hills senior was the best golfer in the East Sequoia League this season, winning the ESL individual title and leading the league in scoring averages while helping his team to a second-place ESL finish.

On the way to becoming The Recorder’s 2018-19 Orange Belt Boys Golfer of the Year, Painter also shot the lowest round of nine in the area and was one of only three local golfers to qualify for the CIF Central Section Championship tournament.

The growth in Painter’s game from freshman to senior year is obvious but when it comes to the how, two things have always remained consistent in his development — competitiveness and dedication.

“I play everyday except Mondays because Monday is when [the course is] closed,” Painter said.

“I'm down here from pretty much about 9 in the morning til it closes. … On days that I’m not in school.”

Painter, who teaches himself with hundreds of hours of YouTube tutorials, said he works on everything from hitting with wedges and drivers, to chipping, when he practices at the Porterville Municipal Golf Course.

Practice paid off immensely for Painter as he went on to win four of the league’s six matches — including the ESL championship at Valley Oaks Golf Course in Visalia. Painter finished 2-under-par with a 70 beating out Strathmore’s Jeeven Larson by eight strokes.

“I felt pretty good going into the match,” Painter said. “Hitting range balls on the range, I felt OK. I was struggling a little bit with my driver but whatever I was struggling with, I didn’t change it. I just played with it. I didn’t change anything … The shape of the ball that day was left to right so I just played left to right that day and it just turned out to be a good day.”

Making his coach go broke on “Burgers for Birdies” this season, Painter’s round at Valley wasn't the only time he shot under par at a course this season.

The other time was a nine-hole match in Porterville where he carded a 33 for low medalist. It was his second win in three matches and it gave him a little preview of what he could accomplish.

“It actually did tell me something because I never shot under par playing high school golf,” Painter said. “But when I did, I felt pretty good just cause it was my first time doing it. It’s like, I’ve seen Jeeven do it a couple times and I’ve always wanted to play like Jeeven. But now I figure he’s not that much ahead of me. I feel like we’re pretty close together. I just want to be better than everybody, pretty much.”

Larson — a three-time regional qualifier and two-time Recorder Golfer of the Year — finished better than Painter in just three of nine matches where the two both played, and had an ESL scoring average of 37.9 compared to Painter’s 36.8. The two’s friendly rivalry made for good competition during the season.

“I just wanted to beat him,” Painter said. “I know he’s a good player and all. He’s my friend but I don’t want to take second.”

But Larson wasn’t the only golfer Painter had his eyes on beating. The other was his teammate and younger brother, Bryce Painter. When the two weren’t teaming up to win Monache's Best Ball and Foothill's three-man scramble tournaments, they were dueling it out on the course.

“I don’t want to ever lose to him,” Colton said. “Ever. In anything. In video games or anything, I just don’t like to lose. He used to beat me all the time when he first started, he used to beat me constantly. And that’s probably why I stuck with golf, because I always wanted to beat him. And when I started beating him, I just wanted to keep doing it.”

All three golfers, the Painters and Larson, were the lone golfers to qualify for the Valley meet after Colton and Larson shot 76, and Bryce an 83, at the Central Section Central Area Championship match.

Colton beat Larson for the final time at Area with a better back-nine score to take seventh place to Larson’s ninth. Unfortunately neither golfer made it to the Southern California Regional Championships after Colton shot a 76 and Larson a 75. They were just a couple of strokes shy of the qualifying 73.

“I missed regionals this year by three shots,” Colton said. “I missed it last year by three shots also but last year the cut was 76. But I shot 76 this year but the cut was 73, so it was three shots even lower. I wasn’t disappointed with myself. I played well. It’s just better competition this year. Which is better for me because it just makes me push harder.”

GHHS head coach, Shelly Lozano, said Colton faced a tough field of competitors in the Valley match but handled the pressure well despite a slow start.

“Colton always starts a little slow on the front nine and turns it on during the back nine, but he couldn’t get over that last hole, No. 3, at Valley,” she said. “Kind of a bummer way to finish the day.”

Lozano spent the last four years being one of Colton’s biggest supporters, watching the timid freshman grow into a leader and role model for his team.

“Since coaching Colton from his freshman year, he started out very quiet & shy, didn’t say much, just a great listener,” Lozano said. “Senior year, seems to be more outgoing, speaks up and voices his opinion, has a lot of fun with his teammates. Coaches always complimented what a nice guy he is.”

Lozano added, “Colton was a great role model for his teammates, spending time helping others as he deemed needed.”

Colton came to love the game of golf early in his start, and that love is something he’s enjoyed passing on to other first-time golfers at Granite.

“It’s been a good experience, really fun,” Colton said. “All the kids that I’ve met and played golf with are really nice. And it’s cool, like, I could get a couple kids that never played golf before to actually try it and actually enjoy it. And now they’re coming out just as much as me to practice and get better.”

But now it’s time for Colton to take the next step in his golfing and academic career. He’ll start by playing for Bakersfield Community College. The Renegades finished third in the Western State Conference Finals and were SoCal Regional qualifiers this season.

“At first I thought it was silly because I didn’t think I was good enough,” Colton said. “But I asked every — I asked my dad, all my friends — and they said I’m good enough to play. So I’m going to give it a shot at least.”

Lozano is another person that supports and is excited about Colton’s decision to play at the next level. She said the weight and cardio training will be adjustments for him but she believes he has the confidence to excel at Bakersfield.

“Colton is coachable and I know he will dedicate himself for the love of golf, not only for himself, but the team,” she said. “I congratulate him on all of his accolades and wish him the best in his golf future.”

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