Inspiration. There is no predicting where it may come from, how deep it will impact and how far it can take you.
"The trip really made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have those opportunities and seeing the foundation of golf really gave me a drive to continue work hard to get better and better every day."
Owen Gauder, a freshly minted Class of 2021 graduate of St. Michael's College School (SMCS), remembers ‘the trip’ two years ago to the 'home of golf' --- the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
The 10-day experiential learning excursion for members of the SMCS golf team in July of 2019 was in many ways a 'hole in one' for Gauder.
It clearly inspired him --- all the way to a huge accomplishment on another golf course!
Gauder has qualified for the 73rd U.S. Junior Amateur being held July 19-24 at The Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst, NC.
"This accomplishment means so much to me because it is my final year of junior golf, therefore, it was my last opportunity to qualify for this tournament," says the 18-year-old. "I also missed an opportunity last year. Because of the pandemic, it was cancelled."
"This is an outstanding accomplishment for a very driven young man," adds Nunzio Corrente, Core Intermediate teacher at SMCS and head coach of the school's golf team. "I have witnessed his growth from an erratic, unfocused player to one who possesses the keys to being a successful golfer --- a singular intense focus that is present in elite golfers, a competitive fire that burns for victory, and the memory of a goldfish (to forget those bad shots and move on to the next one)."
Gauder is one of seven golfers from Canada in the 264-player field to qualify for the tournament. Past winners have included: Jordan Spieth (2009 and 2011) and Tiger Woods (1991-1993), among others.
"Because of COVID, this was the first ever time that the USGA (United States Golf Association) had a qualifier for the Junior Am in Canada," Gauder continues. "[That's because] Canadian players couldn’t cross the border to the US. This resulted in the majority of the competitive golfers in Canada going for these spots."
"I have been in some pretty big tournaments throughout my golf career to this point, but the US Junior Am is the biggest junior tournament in the world so it would 100 per cent be the biggest one I have ever been in,' adds Gauder, who says he started playing golf at four years old, thanks to his grandfather, but only took it seriously at age 12.
Coupled with the inspiration came insistence.
"Owen is somewhat of a late bloomer and was part of a very talented bunch of young golfers at SMCS," says Corrente, who was part of the coaching staff that guided the school's Golf Team to its first OFSAA gold title in 2019 --- a first in the school's history.
"Owen narrowly missed out on competing at OFSAA even though he was a key member of the [Golf Team] Varsity Blue Eagles," Corrente continues. "He was a top-three player all year, but a couple of missed putts dropped him to number five and an alternate on the 2019 OFSAA champion team. It was a devastating setback for Owen since he worked very hard for the opportunity to compete at OFSAA. Most young golfers would give up or even quit playing competitively, but Owen used the setback as fuel to his passion for the game and elevate it to another level."
Adds Corrente, "he is arguably our top player in that talented group now, and it came with some hard work on the course and mentally, where his maturity is clearly showing and he is managing his game much better."
Both teacher and student attribute much of the "exponential" growth in Gauder's game to working with a golf pro --- a SMCS alumnus.
"He [Owen] worked hard with Carter Bennett '09, who I brought in to run some morning sessions in the early morning hours," says Corrente. "Owen never missed a workout!"
That casual interaction with Bennett during school practices blossomed into the pair working together full-time.
"As I got to know Owen, it became very clear to me that he was passionate about the game of golf and has a natural athleticism to how he plays," says Bennett, who runs Coach Carter Golf --- billed as, ‘holistic coaching for all golfers’.
After turning pro in 2014, Bennett set his sights on coaching. He operates an indoor facility based in Etobicoke.
"We try to cover all aspects of his game," says Bennett. "It’s important to me that we approach development in a holistic manner. The mental skills are very important especially for a teenager/young adult. The two major areas of focus with this work have been on emotional intelligence which is the awareness to his emotional state and understanding how he can manage that. The other skill is his ability to focus. The stop and go nature of the sport requires the ability to turn it on and off over the 4.5 hours while you are out on the course."
The instruction continues to pay dividends both on and off the course.
"My best asset as a golfer is my mental game," says Gauder. "My coach has helped me by teaching me different strategies and methods that have helped strengthen my game.
It has really translated into my experiences in real life. Golf teaches you to push through anything that comes along and challenges you, and that skill can easily be used in the real world.
I have also learned how to be a leader when I help teach golf to younger kids. What I love most is how much it adapts to real life, being disciplined, focused, and problem-solving," he says, adding, "It has surprised me truly how much of a grind the sport of golf really is. The amount of practice that is required to even remotely be able to be an average player is off the charts."
A three-sport athlete at one point in his high school career --- along with competitive hockey and lacrosse --- Gauder says, "Typically when school is done I would spend the majority of my day practicing and playing," at a local golf course. None of his family members play golf, but their impact has been immense. "My family as a whole is my idol," he says. "They sacrifice so much for me to fulfill my dream to go to the States to play golf, and it has really paid off."
The inspiration, insistence and instruction has led to another achievement. Gauder earned a golf scholarship to Niagara University where he will begin studying in September 2021.
"Once I finish my business degree at Niagara, I would like to turn pro in golf and see where that path takes me," he says.
For now, the focus is on the task at hand. Gauder tees off at 1:14 p.m. on July 19 at the US Junior Amateur.
"It is going to be an experience of a lifetime that only a handful of golfers really end up being able to have," he says. "I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to qualify and go down to North Carolina and I am going to make the most of it."
His coaches --- past and present, among others --- will be following closely.
"We are very proud of Owen and wish him all the best as he competes against some of the best U18 golfers in the world," says Coach Corrente. "Hit ‘em long and straight Owen!"
Adds Coach Bennett, "This is an amazing accomplishment for Owen or for any junior. He has a great opportunity to compete. His skills are as good as they come, so he’s got to show up and do his best and see how it holds up against the best."
Another memorable trip. And likely more inspiration to come.
The U.S. Junior Amateur tournament runs July 19-24, 2021 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.