Last spring, Aaron Puzey walked into the pro shop at the Umatilla Golf Course displaying signs of frustration.

He tossed his sack lunch on the table and threw himself into a chair. Biting into a sandwich and evidently mad, Puzey turned and said, "I just don't know how he does it sometimes."

Puzey was referring to Anthony Faretta, who was working on his putting stroke on hole No. 9.

"He gets so lucky," Puzey said as he took another bite. "I'm going back out there, and I'm going kick his butt."

Several minutes passed before Faretta walked into the shop and began eating his lunch next to Puzey. The two sat and discussed what had been a frustrating round for Puzey, but after fueling their bodies, the two quickly scurried out the door.

Both saddled their golf bags on their shoulders and were soon lost in the distance as they played through the course.

The two Hermiston High School sophomore golfers look back on days like that on the Umatilla Golf Course and share laughs about the hundreds of times they've competed against each other during rounds of golf.

"Anthony is just so great to be around, and no matter what, we always seem to have fun even though we're pretty competitive with one another," Puzey said. "Once Anthony and I kind of got good, we started playing 36 and sometimes 54 holes each day during the summer.

"We're best friends that just love to golf."

Considering the up-and-down weather in Eastern Oregon, some golfers could easily hang up the spikes during a storm, but not Aaron or Anthony.

"They've played in some really bad weather, but it never seems to stop them," said Anna Carpenter, who's worked in the pro shop for five years. "We've seen a lot of those two the past few years, and they play more than anybody."

This season, the two have fed off each other in a game that constantly challenges its participants, but Puzey and Faretta take it to a new level by battling one another - constantly.

"It's a game that all you need is one good shot to keep bringing you back," Faretta said. "When you have someone to compete against like I have with Aaron, it makes the game that much better.

"We play for bragging rights, and it's always close between us. But it's made us stronger."

As for who holds the No. 1 spot for the Hermiston golf team from week to week is up in the air depending on who beats whom in qualifying rounds at practice.

Puzey and Farreta are interchangable as the point man for the team because they're equally solid on the links. Thus far, they've played so close that just one stroke separates them through seven tournaments. Faretta has accumulated 556 strokes to Puzey's 557.

"Those two come out to practice and have fun, but when they get after it, they worked very hard," Hermiston coach Bill McLeod said. "They're competitive with one another, but also the first to slap each other on the back when one shoots really well."

Considering the two are still not old enough to drive, Anthony's father, Joe, has shuttled Anthony and Aaron to and from the golf course on countless occasions.

"It's been a lot of fun," Joe said. "Anthony and Aaron have been really close freinds, and they've lived on that course the past few summers.

"They normally take a lunch and play early in the morning till dark, sometimes."

Joe credits several members of the Umatilla Golf Course for instructing and helping Anthony and Aaron.

"Pete Strawick has been influential in the junior golf program, and guys like Rick Jewitt, Lee Simmons, Bobby DePriest and Jeff Kent have really helped out," Faretta said.

Last Wednesday, Faretta just missed top medalist honors, firing a 3-over-par 75 at Awbrey Glen Golf Course during the Mountain View Invitational. Puzey struggled a bit with a round of 81, but could not be more pleased for his partner in crime.

"This is has been an awesome season, and we're just really happy for each other in the way things have gone," Puzey said. "Anthony just grinds so well. He can double a hole but bounce right back with a birdie, and I'm learning from him in that area."

The two are both long off the tee, crafty around the greens and smooth with the flat stick, but both are still learning a game that requires constant maintenance.

"They have both sacrificed a lot for golf," Joe said. "They've given up other sports and just want to fine-tune their game anytime they can."

To go with a strong overall game, Anthony is as smooth as the other side of a pillow when it comes to the mental aspect of golf.

"Anthony stays within himself so well," McLeod said. "He just doesn't let a bad shot get to him."

Puzey is learning to become as patient as Anthony during rounds, but Puzey isn't afraid to hit a clutch shot.

"He hits big shots all the time," Anthony said of Puzey. "He's learning to hold himself together when he doesn't score like he wants, but man, he can really play."

Puzey has won top medalist honors twice this season. He shot a first-place 75 at The Dalles Invitational and led Hermiston to a team win at Hood River Valley with an 80. Faretta shot an 81 in each event, and the team win in Hood River was the first for Hermiston's golf program in a long time, according to coach McLeod.

"Some of our kids are really coming around this season," McLeod said. "Anthony and Aaron are only sophomores, but their work ethic says a lot to all the younger kids, and it's starting to show."

The Pendleton Country Club is hosting the Intermountain Conference district golf tournament May 8-9, and for Anthony and Aaron, qualifying for the state tournament would mean plenty.

"They have a chance of making it," McLeod said. "The top two teams at districts and top five individual placers qualify for state, and getting to the state meet - individually or as a team - would put our program on the map."

With rounds of 75 each this season, and scores that have placed them high on the scoreboard by the end of tournaments, Puzey feels he and Anthony can hang with the big sticks of the IMC.

"We know we can play with them," Puzey said of the top golfers in the IMC. "We want to play in the state tournament so bad, and it's our goal this season."

As for what will happen this season or in the future, nobody knows. But for two friends that have gone as far as wrestling on the course because of their competitive nature, Aaron and Anthony might just write their own ticket someday from a side of Oregon that's not exactly known for producing quality golfers.

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