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Center Grove golfers ready for regional

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Center Grove junior Austin Crowder
Center Grove junior Austin Crowder

Austin Crowder and Christopher Heck display a range of similarities and contrasts both on and off the golf course.

Crowder plays a power game, bashing drives 315 yards off the tees at Dye’s Walk Golf Course during a recent practice round as the seventh-ranked Center Grove boys golf team prepared for today’s IHSAA Regional in Henryville.

Heck, on the other hand, is more of a technician. While not as long off the tee as his teammate, he finds himself in the fairway quite a bit and seems to have a knack for leaving his approach shots underneath the hole.

The pair seem to enjoy their practice round quite a bit. They exchange good-natured banter about respective tastes in music and compliment each other on good shots.

Center Grove coach Jim Williams says the junior duo tend to be very upbeat.

“From a golf perspective, the kids just love to play,” he said. “They look forward to every chance they get to go out and play golf. They are fun to be around in practice. I’ve never seen them down mentally.”

Both players, who lead the Trojans in scoring average for the season, became interested in the game through their fathers.

“When I was 3 or 4, my dad would come home from work and take me to Bluff Creek,” Crowder recalled. “I would play three or four holes, and it would take me about two hours. I would just hack at it and then immediately spring after it.”

Heck has a similar memory.

“A family friend bought me a plastic golf club for my fifth birthday, and I ran straight into the yard and started swinging it,” he said. “My dad plays a little, and so it was easy to get on courses and just mess around.”

While he competes regularly, Heck still likes to “mess around” with golf, playing with friends for social enjoyment. Crowder is much more interested in the competitive side of the game.

“I just like to compete. I don’t like losing,” Crowder said. “Playing competitively is so much more fun to me than going out and playing nine holes at

6 o’clock at night. I like it when it

means something.”

Crowder won the most meaningful event of his young career last summer at the Indiana Junior Golf Age Group Championship, taking the Under 16 category at Swan Lake Resort in Plymouth. Like Heck, he hopes for more such honors but keeps things in perspective.

“I’d like to go as high up as I can go,” he said. “I think that’s every young golfer’s dream.”

Heck agreed.

“I’d like to play college golf and then hopefully take a shot at making it on (PGA) Tour,” he said. “But for now I just try to keep improving and doing the right things.”

Williams said the players are even-keeled about their dreams but have potential to do well in the game.

“They are pretty realistic about everything, but I think right now we have a number of kids who can play college golf if they want to.”

Heck said he is impressed with what he called Crowder’s “raw power” but added that his teammate is not one-dimensional.

“His mental side is really strong, too,” Heck said of Crowder. “He really hates to lose. But if he does, he just keeps working hard. He’s really competitive.”

Crowder said Heck has “as good of a short game as I’ve ever seen.”

Heck works with club professional Scott Downing at Hillview Country Club in Franklin.

“I work with him twice a month probably during the season,” Heck said. “Tempo is a key when you’re playing so much. You can get into some bad habits easily. Then (we’ll work on) short game and feel. He’ll video me for my swing and then take me out to the course to do some management work, to help me see the course differently and work on some shots I can hit.”

Williams praised Heck’s cerebral approach to the game.

“He is an extremely intelligent player,” he said. “He knows how to manage his way around a golf course. He will plan two or three shots ahead some times. That’s a rarity to find in a boy.”

By contrast, Crowder’s swing is what he calls “home-grown,” and he refers to the catch-phrase “grip it and rip it” popularized 20 years ago by noted long-hitter John Daly.

“I’ve taken a couple of lessons, but my dad’s always been my swing coach,” he said. “My swing is sort of home-grown. I try not to think about mechanics too much but just work on things that fit with my swing. I work on tempo and balance. My mechanics may not be the best, but like I said, it’s a home-grown swing. Whatever works best, right? It’s worked for me until now, so I’ll keep on doing it.”

Williams grins when asked if Crowder is the longest hitter on the Center Grove team.

“Oh by far,” he said. “His dad refers to him as a gunslinger. He hits the ball a country mile. It’s interesting to watch him.”

This could be said for the entire Center Grove team this season. The Trojans won last weekend’s sectional at Heartland Crossing near Mooresville and now return to Champions Point Golf Club in Henryville, where the team played an unconvincing round a couple of weeks ago, finishing tied for fifth with an aggregate score some 15 shots higher than their typical form.

Heck said that is serving as a motivation to the team as they prepare for the regional.

“We have a lot of confidence, but we’re really trying to take it one step at a time,” he said. “Winning the sectional was one step, and winning or getting out of the regional will be another step. (Struggling the first time at the course in Henryville) was a good warmup for regionals, but it definitely motivates us because we know we can play much better than we did.”

Williams said his team shows resilience at big events that he likes.

“Typically when you’re on the golf course at a tournament and when you’re talking to the kids, we had several different conversations at Heartland about where we stood in the match,” he said. “I went to four of the kids and had to tell them ‘I need you to consider going one or two under on these six or seven holes’ that they had left, and they could do it. In a lot of cases, people are just trying to maintain and get a par or a bogey. You can talk to these kids about trying to pick up a birdie here or there. That’s a luxury I’ve definitely come to appreciate with this group.”

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