Bremerton, Wash. – Fortunately, James Feutz didn’t have any weird accidents leading up to the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur.
No tripping in the bathtub, falling out of a tree or jamming his hand in a car door.
Four years ago, Feutz was preparing for the Junior Amateur sectional qualifier at Canterbury Golf Club in Gig Harbor, Wash., when he shattered his collarbone while riding a skateboard down a cartpath. His 2007 summer golf season suddenly vanished.
Last year, a week after winning the Washington Class A High School state title, Feutz sustained a fracture dislocation playing basketball in his physical-education class at Bellarmine Prep. His finger was put in a splint for five months and it was seven months before he could grip a golf club again.
Another summer golf season went up in smoke.
So with the 2011 U.S. Junior scheduled for Gold Mountain Golf Club’s Olympic Course, a 30-minute drive from Feutz’s University Place, Wash., residence, his father gave him some strict orders this spring: “No more skateboarding or basketball.”
Somehow the 17-year-old Feutz managed to avoid any sharp objects and qualified for his first U.S. Junior in his final attempt.
While the week ended a bit earlier than he would have hoped – Feutz dropped a 3-and-2 first-round decision to Chris Petefish of Scottsdale, Ariz., on Wednesday – the opportunity to compete on the national stage before friends and family was a moment he won’t soon forget.
“A dream come true,” he said.
In fact, just to qualify for the 156-player field, Feutz had to overcome a bit of carnage on his scorecard. After shooting a first-round 77 at the 36-hole sectional on June 21, which was also held on Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course, Feutz started his second 18 with a birdie and two consecutive double bogeys. He regrouped and played his final 15 holes in seven under par for a 4-under 68 to earn one of the four available spots in this week’s field.
Ironically, one of the other qualifiers was Chris Tedesco of nearby Gig Harbor, who happened to be with Feutz at Canterbury G.C. four years ago when he went flying off the skateboard. Tedesco was going to be his caddie at that 2007 qualifier, and he cautioned the then-13-year-old Feutz not to ride his board down the steep S-turn that led to the ninth-hole teeing ground. Being a naïve teenager, Feutz failed to heed the advice. When a skateboard wheel struck a rock on the path, he went flying 20 feet.
Luckily, Feutz landed on his left shoulder and not his head.
“I could have died,” said Feutz. “If I had landed on my neck or head, it would have been bad.”
Last year, Feutz had posted 24 consecutive under-par rounds, including the 36-hole high school championship at Canyon Lakes Golf Course in Kennewick. He was set for a big summer and then – boom – it was gone with one bizarre deflection. While inbounding a pass to a teammate, the ball caromed off a defender and struck his finger.
Like the collarbone injury, doctors elected to let the fracture heal naturally without doing surgery.
By the time Feutz was ready to swing a club again, he struggled to grip it properly. Amazingly, he shot a 72 during a pro-am his first time out. But that was more of an aberration.
“I wasn’t close to where I wanted to be,” he said. “I got into some bad habits. Since then, I’ve gotten it straightened out and I can make a normal grip.”
Being around several PGA Tour professionals at his home course, Tacoma Country & Golf Club in Lakewood, has also helped the rehab process. Three-time USGA champion Ryan Moore, 2005 USA Walker Cup participant Michael Putnam, 2011 U.S. Open qualifier Andres Gonzales and 2007 USA Walker Cup member Kyle Stanley all play out of the course. And when they are around, Feutz absorbs any advice he can get.
“Some of the best advice was from [recent Pepperdine graduate] Andrew Putnam, Michael’s little brother who is going to turn pro this year,” said Feutz. “He said when you are going through a little bit of a funk, one shot is not going to cure it. Don’t go for the miracle shots. Get your ball in play and make your pars. Stick to conservative play.”
Feutz took those words to heart this week at Gold Mountain. When he struggled to get his driver into play, Feutz dialed it back and hit a lot of 3-woods and irons off tees. The long-hitting Feutz needed just 3-iron/pitching wedge to reach the 461-yard 17th hole. It worked well in qualifying, as he made match play with a 7-over total of 151.
Unfortunately, he didn’t take advantage of his length advantage against Petefish. Trailing 3 down at the turn, Feutz had good looks at birdie on holes 10, 11, 14 and 15 and failed to convert.
But the disappointment of not making it to the second round didn’t damper his spirits. Friends and family got a chance to watch him compete on one of the biggest stages in junior golf.
“I just kept telling myself that I was going to make it,” said Feutz of his mindset going into the summer. “I pictured it 100 times in my head. It’s crazy how your mind works. And I ended up getting here.
“When you beat that many good players … you want to focus on the positive. I tried to embrace the whole week. I will probably be out here the rest of the week [watching]. This is so cool. This is probably … the best-run tournament I’ve ever been at.”
Feutz’s summer golf season didn’t end with this competition. Next week he travels to Walla Walla Country Club for the Washington State Golf Association Junior Championship, an event he has only played once in the past four years. He will also attempt to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in a few weeks.
He also expects to sign his letter of intent with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in November. His best friend, Carl Jonson of Bainbridge Island, will matriculate there this fall. And the school has been a pipeline for top Washington golfers with Moore and Gonzales both being alums, and Sammamish resident Kevin Penner on the current roster.
Feutz loved the school from the beginning and said that Coach Dwaine Knight is one of the best short-game gurus in the college ranks. Feutz sees the program as a place where his game could blossom.
Of course, he might want to refrain from riding skateboards and playing basketball.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.