Jase Walker, a native of Donalsonville, Ga., and rising senior at Houston Academy, got his first look at the Press Thornton Future Masters last year.
He was taking a summer math class and ventured over to the Dothan Country Club during a lunch break to watch some of his teammates play.
It blew him away.
“I thought it was awesome,” Walker said. “Everybody was serious. There are so many kids from different places.”
He was already familiar with the history of the prestigious junior golf tournament.
“My dad (Josh Walker) had played when he was younger and he wanted me to play in it, but it wasn’t really worth paying the money to come over here to play because I knew I wasn’t going to make the cut,” Walker said. “Last year was the year I really wanted to play. I was getting serious and I thought that I could do decent.
“When I came to HA I was one math behind everybody else, so I was taking geometry over the summer and that was one of the weeks of the Future Masters, so I didn’t get to play.”
Next week, the 17-year-old Walker will be in the field for the first time when the players in the 15-18 age division tee off Thursday in their opening round.
Walker believes he’s ready.
“I’m just trying to look at it as any other tournament,” Walker said, though he concedes this one is the biggest he’s played in. “It is a little more pressure, because I don’t want to come out here and be embarrassed on my home golf course. But I’m just trying to look at it as any other tournament I’m playing with the school.”
Being part of the Houston Academy golf team, which has won two straight state championships, has prepared Walker for the caliber of competition he’ll see next week. Among the favorites going into the tournament are HA teammate Hal Dove, who won the overall crown a year ago, and Providence Christian standout Thomas Ponder, who won it two years ago.
“I think that’s a big advantage because a lot of people that come out here don’t know the competition and they get really intimidated,” Walker said. “Like through the first three holes this guy is bombing it straight down the middle and making birdies and they (newcomers) kind of lock up.
“I’m kind of familiar with that because with Hal and Thomas … I play with them plenty and I’m pretty used to really good golf. So I don’t think it will intimidate me.”
Walker began attending Houston Academy as a freshman and had to sit out that school golf season due to transfer rules. When he became eligible as a sophomore, he wasn’t sure he was going to earn a spot on the team.
“William Lee was my competition and he was really playing good at the time, so I had to sit out the first few tournaments,” Walker said. “Then I got to play in a couple of tournaments and then Matthew (Streitman) got injured. So then me and William ended up both getting to play and it was a ton of fun.”
It was during the Raiders’ final round on the way to the 2018 state title that Walker experienced a talking to from his coach that has turned his mindset around.
“I used to get really nervous in tournaments,” Walker said. “I was kind of a basket case. I would go up to the practice tee and get all nervous and get mad because I wasn’t hitting it well.
“Last year, we were pretty far ahead in the competition (at state), but coach Kevin (Klein) was making it seem as though we weren’t that far ahead because he wanted us to keep pushing it and keep playing well.
“I had a really bad hole on No. 14 or 15 or something and hit it in the water and then hit it in the bunker and then hit it over the green. I was really frustrated. He came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got to get it together. We need your score. You need to push through it and get back to how you were doing.’
“So I went up to the next tee and hit it to within 6 feet and made a birdie and that just gave me a lot of confidence. After that, I really enjoy tournaments a lot more and I don’t get nearly as nervous.”
He will try to stay calm and guard against overthinking things on a DCC course layout he’s familiar with.
“On this course especially, being my home course, I’ll go out thinking about the score and that will really mess me up,” Walker said. “I’ll be like, ‘I really want to come out here and shoot 70 today.’ But that’s not a good thing to think about, because then you make a bogey and get down on yourself and think, ‘Oh man, now I’ve got to make a couple of birdies to make up for it.’
“So I’m just going to try and hit every shot one at a time and not think about my score. I think it will pay off.”
That doesn’t mean Walker won’t have a few jitters when he approaches the tee box to begin his opening round at the Future Masters. He does believe he’s well prepared for the challenge ahead.
“I’m by no means a stellar golfer, but I would not be as good as I am if I didn’t have that competition,” Walker said of playing for Houston Academy. “I love playing with these guys. They are all my best friends. It pushes me to be the best that I can be.”