by Tom Cade, Editor
In a span of four days last month, Evan Otte helped Mercer Island High School win two WIAA 3A High School State team titles in two different sports – one for baseball, and one for golf.
The baseball title is not too big a surprise, but the golf title, well, that was unexpected, helped by a boost from the pandemic, and from the WA Golf Youth on Course program.
When the pandemic hit in the late winter of 2020 and shut everything down – and we mean everything: no school, no sports, no movie theaters, no restaurants, no holiday gatherings, just “no” for the next 18 months – it hit young people especially hard.
But what was not shut down, of course, was golf. So Evan, normally a baseball player and in his freshman year in high school at the time, picked up a golf club for the first time on May 6, 2020. “I was hooked immediately,” he says. “There was nothing else we could do, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do this,’ so me and my buddies started playing a lot of golf.”
Wanting to play 36 holes a day (again, ain’t nothing else going on), it got a little expensive. “We just couldn’t afford to keep doing that,” he says.
So he started doing what most kids do when they have time on their hands and not much in the wallet – he hit golf balls around the yard at his house. Naturally.
“My brother (Halen, a year older than Evan) and I started out by digging some holes in the ground in the yard, and putting cans in them for targets,” Evan says. “But then we got ambitious, and wanted to put in a real putting green. We started watching ‘how to’ videos on YouTube, and us and our Dad built it ourselves.”
Then a friend of the family told his mother, Kym, about the WA Golf Youth on Course program, through which Evan could play golf for $5 a round at participating area courses.
“That was a game-changer,” Kym says. “He and his friends started spending all day at the golf course. All of his friends joined the program.”
Evan plays most of his golf at Twin Rivers Golf Course (the home course for his high school golf team) in Fall City, and at Jefferson Park in Seattle.
A natural athlete, Evan got good quickly. Three months after hitting his first golf ball, he made the school’s junior varsity team as a sophomore, although the season was again cut short (the pandemic, don’t ya know).
“I didn’t have any golf equipment when I started,” he says. “I wore my baseball turf shoes, and my grandpa got me some clubs from the $10 barrel at the store, but I kept breaking the shafts because I was swinging so hard.” One of Kym’s friends then gave him a set of used irons to carry him through this past season.
This past school year, his junior year, he made the varsity squad, with his scores among the five being used in every tournament, including shooting a 73 in the final round of the state championship, held last month at Liberty Lake Golf Course in Spokane, helping his team win the title. It is only the second golf team title in school history.
Evan credits the WA Golf Youth on Course program for getting him into the game. “Oh, definitely,” he says. “At first it was hard to believe the courses would let us play for $5, but it allowed me to really get into it, when we couldn’t do anything else. I doubt I would have stayed with the game had it not been for that program.”
His grandparents live near Chambers Bay, the U.S. Open course in University Place. So he and his brother would go play Chambers for $5, then go to his grandparents for dinner. “That’s a pretty good day,” Evan said with a smile.
Kym says the backyard putting green has become a great place for Evan and his friends to hang out. Their next-door neighbor is Ethan Evans, a teammate of Evan’s on the high school golf team who was last year’s Washington Junior State Champion and WA Golf Junior Boys’ Player of the Year, and who this year made it to Final Qualifying for the U.S. Open. Pretty good company.
Last month Evan was named the WIAA Athlete of the Week for winning the two state team titles in two different sports in a span of four days. So when he’s not walking the fairways, he’s pitching for the Mercer Island baseball team.
That week in which he played a pivotal role in the two high school championships was a bit of a blur. It looked like this:
On May 21, Evan pitched against Auburn High School in a playoff game. Then he had a late golf practice on Mercer Island. On May 22, he joined his golf teammates and headed to Spokane for the three-day state championship. On May 25, Evan shot his 73 and his team won the title. That night, he went back to Mercer Island. On May 26, he took a test at school, met his baseball team and headed to Pasco. The team played May 27 and 28, culminating in the baseball state championship game against Kennewick High School – Mercer Island won 8 to 4, and, yes, Evan was the winning pitcher in that title game.
And for Evan, what is the difference between the two sports? “In baseball, if I’m pitching and having a bad game and I don’t have my best stuff, the coach can just pull me out of the game and put someone else in, and the game goes on and we still have a chance to win,” he explains. “But in golf, if I’m not swinging the club well and I get a few bogeys or doubles, I can’t have someone step in and replace me to finish my round. It’s all on me, and I have to find a way to grind it out in the middle of a round, to score better for myself and help my team.”
And the best part of it, of course, is that he gets to do it all again next year as a senior.
Tom Cade is the editor of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, published by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association. From 2010-2015 he served as president of the Northwest Golf Media Association, and in 2016 received the NWGMA Distinguished Service Award. He was the editor and publisher of “America’s St. Andrews,” the book about Chambers Bay and the 2015 U.S. Open. He also was editor of the centennial history book for Inglewood Golf Club (published 2019), and editor of the just-published centennial history book of Washington Golf. He is a regular member of the Golf Writers Association of America.