INDIAN TRAIL – Nick Sutton tried football in the Pop Warner leagues for a few seasons, but he decided to concentrate on golf full time by the time he was 9 years old.
Part of the reason was his love of the game. The other is a home-field advantage of sorts he has with his father, Jason, in his corner.
The elder Sutton starred as a prep in West Virginia. Since graduating in 1991 from Glenville State, Jason Sutton worked as an assistant PGA professional at a couple of country clubs before becoming the head at NorthStone Country Club in 1999. He’s currently the director of instruction at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte.
“He got me started at a young age,” Sutton said. “He has worked with me on every part of my game at one point or another.”
Part of that was working to improve his chipping game around the green, a flaw that used to hinder his game.
“My short game has gotten a lot better,” he said. “I was always a good putter and a ball striker, but when I got around the greens, I couldn’t chip. I would miss greens, not chip it close or something. That put a lot of pressure on my long game, too. But I worked so hard on it, and it’s probably the best part of my game now.”
That kind of hard work and dedication is what stood out to Pirate coach David Scholl, who has seen Sutton play since his time at Porter Ridge Middle and has been his coach for three years on the varsity team. With Sutton as a three-year standout, the Pirates have twice qualified for the state meet as a team and this year placed third in the region.
“He’s working hard all of the time,” Scholl said. “He’s one of the hardest working golfers I know. An off day for him is probably cutting it back from four hours to an hour. He’s always working on something. And this year, he connected with everybody and is always so positive. If someone has a bad round, he’s always telling them to have a better round next time out.”
His hard work and level head are certainly starting to pay off.
As a freshman, Sutton began of series of three seasons where his stroke average hovered around 37.6 shots per nine holes or a handicap of 3.2 shots over par.
That year, he tied for 51st at the state tournament with a two-day score of 159, which was 15 strokes above par.
Since, Sutton said he’s learned to stay in the moment and not let his thoughts or emotions get the best of him.
“I have a lot of trust in what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been working on,” Sutton said. “And I think confidence is a big part of it. If you don’t play well and you get down about it, that’s going to lead to bad scores, so I have to trust in myself. It all works out in the end.”
Sutton followed that advice well as the season wore down and the pressure of the season’s biggest rounds loomed.
But that’s where he shined.
Behind a cast of six new freshman, and with Sutton leading the way, the Pirates won the Union County High School Invitational at Rolling Hills Country Club by 10 strokes, but their star was just getting started.
Sutton, who is the 2018 Union County Weekly Boys Golfer of the Year, was the team’s scoring leader all season long with a 37.7 scoring average. He tied for the lead at the Southwestern 4A championship, but lost in a playoff.
At the regional championship, he went into the match with momentum and the voice of his biggest fan echoing inside his head.
“I knew that even par was going to be a good score because that was a tough course,” he said. “I played against what my dad calls the old man – ‘Old Man Par’ – and didn’t worry about anyone else. I knew shooting even would help the team and I’d be around the lead.”
His round of even par at Pinehurst No. 5 tied with two other golfers for the 4A Midwestern Regional championship. The following week he went into Pinehurst No.6 having never seen the course aside from a practice round the day before, but had a lot of confidence in his swing.
“I knew I had to keep it in play and give myself some chances, but I didn’t play particularly good,” he said.
He carded rounds of 76 and 75 to shoot seven over par and tie for 11th in the state.
It could have been better, but four double boyes cost him eight strokes and what could have been a two-shot lead.
But Sutton said he wouldn’t change a thing about his season.
“I’m going to go out there next year and do the exact same thing,” he said. “I know we are going to have to play well to make states, but I think we’re going to be pretty deep. I want to play well and help them get back to states once again.
“If I do that, everything will take care of itself.”