Lynden Christian boys’ golf coach Dana Hagen had some special words for sophomore Erik Vander Velden before the start of the 2015 season.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen on the golf course,” Hagen said in a phone interview in March.
With that hard work, Hagen believed it was possible Vander Velden could make state in just his second year. Fast forward two months and Vander Velden is headed to the Class 1A State Championships, which start on Wednesday, May 27, at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
Golf is Vander Velden’s only sport he plays competitively so he has plenty of time to spend focusing on the course.
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“Probably seeing the improvements from match to match,” Vander Velden said in a phone interview. “Each round the scores get lower and you can see the hard work you put in working.”
That effort has not only helped Vander Velden but also the rest of the Lyncs team, which is sending four golfers to state.
“He’s definitely showing what hard work can do. So younger players and other players can see what hard work gets you,” Hagen said in a phone interview. “If you’re not working hard at golf, not continually trying to improve, you’re going backward.”
While the 2015 version of LC’s boys’ golf team isn’t the most talented group the Lyncs’ coach has ever seen, there’s a special quality this group has and that’s personified by Vander Velden’s work ethic.
“They never stop fighting; they love each other, and they play that way,” Hagen said. “They like to hang out together. That’s key, that breeds success.”
For the Lyncs to be in the trophy hunt at state, they’ll have to qualify two golfers for the second day, and Vander Velden just may be the one to join No. 1 golfer Lincoln Olson on day two.
Vander Velden isn’t the longest hitter so the drier conditions of the east side course should help, as will his improved short game that he knew he had to work on, Hagen said.
“He doesn’t hit the ball super long so he has to have a better short game,” Hagen said. “He realizes that and as he gets stronger, it will only help his game.”
The difference, though, will be keeping his emotions even-keeled, something the sophomore has struggled with at times.
Hagen said he can tell how Vander Velden’s playing by his body language, and as round takes its ups and downs, he can often lose steam at the end of rounds because of the emotional roller coaster he takes.
“I just try not to let my emotions get the best of me. That’s very difficult sometimes,” Vander Velden said. “It feels good when you have a good shot, but I try not to let the bad shots get to me.”
However, the emotion is what makes Vander Velden so talented.
“We’re finding he needs to be fired up to play well. When he goes out and focuses on not being emotional, he doesn’t play as well,” Hagen said. “He needs that fire to get him going. ... The state experience will be great for him.”
The cut should hover in the mid-80s, Hagen said, and with a course that plays to Vander Velden’s strengths, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t make the second day.
“It’s a pretty good course. It’s shorter. That works well for me because I don’t hit it that far,” Vander Velden said. “I think if I have a good day, I can play pretty well there.”
And Hagen knows sometimes the best comes out of players in high-pressure situations, something he’s hoping for out Vander Velden, Lincoln Olson, Kaden Sterk and Travis Roosma.
“I’ve had kids in the past that shot their career-best at state,” Hagen said. “I’m pretty excited to see how they respond.”