Jake Becker’s performance level during the high school golf season might indicate there’s been a radical change in focus, fundamentals or some other aspect of his game.
The Augusta senior posted solid if not spectacular scores the first few tournaments. Then Becker won the Augusta Invitational in mid-April, and has since kept pace with many of the area’s top golfers.
“I’ve seen kids who put a lot of pressure on themselves, and then they go out there and it doesn’t work,” Augusta coach Keith Conrady said. “I don’t see that out of him.
“He’s a pretty happy-go-lucky kid. He may have a bad hole here and there, but he shakes his head and a couple holes later, he’ll get the stroke back.”
That approach could serve Becker well Monday in the Class 4A regional at Tallgrass Country Club. Becker, a three-time state qualifier, and the Orioles will compete against a field of formidable teams and talented individuals with the goal of advancing to next week’s state tournament in Wamego.
Golfers from 10 schools will try to qualify by finishing in the top two of the four-man team standings or be one of the top five individuals from non-qualifying teams.
“There’s always kind of a risk that’s being taken through our division of 4A,” Becker said. “We’ve never made it as a team in my career. I’ve been lucky to make it as an individual.”
Becker, who recently signed to play golf at Missouri Southern, has posted a 72.7 stroke average in his last six rounds, bookending the stretch with medalist performances at Augusta (2-over-par 74) and in last week’s Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division III tournament at Hesston (even-par 71).
The latter led the Orioles to a 19-shot victory over McPherson for the league title.
Becker’s biggest breakthrough occurred May 2 in the I-135 Shootout, a 36-hole competition at Hesston Golf Course and McPherson’s Turkey Creek. Becker matched Maize South standout Wells Padgett for the low round at Hesston with a 4-under 67, then shot a 2-under 68 that afternoon at Turkey Creek.
“Everything clicked,” Becker said. “I’ve just been working on a lot of things recently and I think I’m starting to get the hang of them a lot more.”
Becker, who regularly plays at Terradyne Country Club, has sought regular instruction from Trey Hayden, an assistant pro at the Andover course. Hayden was a member of the last Augusta team to qualify for state in 2010.
“Jake is the closest I’ve had to Trey in that they could both just do it consistently,” said Conrady, who will step down at the end of the season after 21 years as Augusta’s coach. “The thing I like in both of those kids was you couldn’t match them in work ethic.”
Becker’s best performance at state came as a freshman, when he finished 12th at Firekeeper Golf Course north of Topeka. Qualifying individually with teammate Martin Nuessen each of the last two years, Becker tied for 45th as a sophomore and tied for 34th as a junior.
While Becker would like to atone for the recent trips, Monday’s regional offers little room for error. Maize South, which dropped from 5A this year, is in the field and posted a four-man total of 295 at Hesston. Andover Central, with five underclassmen, has won two tournaments and was second at the AV-CTL II meet.
Andale, the AV-CTL IV champion, and Trinity Academy have also posted four-man scores slightly better than Augusta’s season low of 312. Rose Hill junior Peyton Austin has shot in the 70s in all eight of his rounds, and while the Rockets have experienced a rebuilding season, he could contend for an individual berth.
“On Monday, all you’ve got to think about is playing the best you can,” Becker said. “If it’s enough, it’s enough. If it’s not, it’s not. So you can’t stress over it.”