By Keith Raad
The spring sport Trevor Gardner finds solace in doesn’t include illuminated scoreboards, roaring crowds, or hyped-up pregame introductions.
In late March and early April, Gardner sidelines his football helmet and basketball sneakers, and grabs his 9 iron for the spring varsity golf season. Despite a loud, packed and intense atmosphere externally the fall and winter, the clutter packs into Gardner’s head internally. After all, that’s the challenge.
“Golf is different,” Gardner says. “It’s not like on TV when Tiger Woods makes the putt and everyone’s cheering. You cheer for your guys, the other players you’re competing with, and even the person you’re competing against.”
The Dryden High School junior didn’t quite pan out on the baseball diamond, so his spring schedule had availability. Hungry for the tallest challenges, the quiet, lead-by-example quarterback and point guard had a talk with family friend David Hicks, the varsity golf coach at Dryden.
“It started when he couldn’t play baseball in the eighth or ninth grade,” Hicks says. “When he gave it up I started encouraging him, thinking he might be interested [in golf]. If you play golf you know about the ‘bug,’ and I think he’s got the bug.”
That bug caused an itch to develop and improve his game, while also venture out to a landscape void of all the lines and fixed dimensions of a basketball court or football field. Since his exponential increase in skills with a plethora of club-mastery, Gardner’s journey from a scrappy, young mistake-prone freshman to a polished, sturdy leader has come as a natural progression.
Since the start of the 2016 season, his performances have been consistently four-over-par at the Dryden Lake Golf Course, but it’s a benchmark that a younger Gardner would have killed for. During his freshman season, the Purple Lions were in the midst of a reconstructive period involving filling the holes left by graduation. At that time, Hicks figured Gardner would be a bit behind the 8-ball, without much responsibility on his shoulders.
“I thought he’d be our fifth- or sixth-best guy,” Hicks says. “But it’s that bug that drove him to get better.”
A quick transformation with his technical skills was one thing, but Hicks’ message to every young golfer is to fight the urge to throw a club or lose mental focus. When competing in team golf, as is the norm at the high school level, there are moments when your shot matters, despite that urge to throw in the towel.
“When you’re playing team golf one of the things that’s really good is that you’re hopefully trying to make your best personal score,” Hicks says. “But if you have a round that’s not very good, you don’t know if that next stroke is the most important one of the match.”
Gardner shot a 39 against Trumansburg, a 39 against Whitney Point, a 39 against Southern Cayuga, and another 39 against Union Springs. That is the definition of consistency.
But more than that, Gardner has come a long way and fondly remembers Hicks’ message when he was younger. It’s a message that continues to resonate, but it’s also a memory that fuels his competitive engine. “Coach has told me that as you get better and better it gets harder and harder to improve,” Gardner says. “So I know that’s going to be a challenge facing me pretty soon.”
Accepting challenges has always been on Gardner’s resume. He began playing golf “a couple of times” before his freshman season. His grandfather, Steve Whelan, loved to play and would take Gardner out to the course. Prior to that experience, he had no ties to the game. His father hadn’t played golf, either, until Gardner picked it up three years ago.
Golf provides quiet, subtle succor from the wild time-controlled games like basketball and football. Along with Large North Most Valuable Ali Abel-Ferretti, Gardner was named First-Team All-Star after a tremendous boys basketball season. In the fall, Gardner led the Purple Lions football team to a 5-3 regular season record.
Under a hat pulled tightly over his eyes, Gardner takes his stance on the fragile practice green at the Dryden Lake Golf Course. Shifting his shoulders slightly, he rocks back, then forward, and propels the white ball toward the hole.
“Coach Hicks is always pushing me to believe in myself and shoot low,” Gardner says. “He tells me not to be afraid to aim for a low score even though I have never been there before.”
Once he breaks the streak of 39s he’s been on, maybe driving the ball 300 yards is the next goal he’d like to reach. “I’d like to figure out how to hit it 300 yards,” Gardner says with a smile. “Hopefully I can figure that out sometime.”
Knowing Gardner, that should not be a problem. The places he’s never been seem to be the places where he thrives.
By Keith Raad