Local golfer headed to regional championships

He’s only been golfing competitively for about two years, but Fab Laude has picked up the sport with relative ease.

He made the Wiregrass Ranch boys varsity golf team as a freshman last year, developing into one of the Bulls’ top players — and is now one of the better players in the county.

Wiregrass Ranch High School sophomore Fab Laude will compete in the Drive, Chip & Putt regional championships on Sept. 29 at TPC (Tournament Players Club) Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra Beach. He qualified for the event after finishing runner-up in the boys 14-15 division at the Drive, Chip & Putt sub-regional qualifier last month at Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs. (Courtesy of Cliff Laude)

But, before the 15-year-old gets too deep into his sophomore campaign, there’s another golf competition he’s got on his mind.

On Sept. 29, Laude will compete in the Drive, Chip & Putt regional championships at TPC (Tournament Players Club) Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra Beach.

He qualified for the event after finishing runner-up in the boys 14-15 division at the Drive, Chip & Putt sub-regional qualifier last month at Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs.

There, he and Tampa’s Suraj Kollegal (who placed first in the boys 14-15 division) outperformed numerous competitors from Miami, Naples, Sarasota and other areas.

Outdueling other top golfers in his age group from the southern half of the state was “very humbling,” Laude said.

At the same time, he noted, “it gave me a lot of confidence, like, ‘Yeah, I can hang with these guys,’” he said.

Unlike traditional golf, a higher score is better in the Drive, Chip & Putt event, where points are accumulated from the three fundamental skills of golf.

Driving points are calculated on yardage distance and accuracy — where a shot must finish within a 40-yard-wide fairway.

For chipping and putting, points are awarded based on how close a ball is to the hole from a series of different distances (chips from 10 to 15 yards; putts from 6 feet, 15 feet and 30 feet, respectively).

The short game is where Laude particularly excelled — something he also takes pride in his regular golf game.

“My game inside 100 yards is just on point for me,” said Laude, who grew up in Wesley Chapel. “What I believe is, you get your scoring from your short game, so I try and work on that a lot, because you can hit the ball long, but if you’re not good at your short game, you’re not going to really get anywhere.

“Even if I hit a bad shot and I know I’m 160, 170 yards out, I know that I’ll make par or at least bogey,” he said.

In between high school practices and early season matches this year, Laude has taken extra time to prepare for the upcoming Drive, Chip & Putt competition. He’s also spending his weekends honing skills and working on the different shots at his home course at Pebble Creek Golf Club, in Tampa.

Drive, Chip & Putt is a free nationwide junior golf development competition for ages 7 to 15 aimed at growing the game by focusing on the three fundamental skills employed in golf. The competition is a joint initiative founded in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and The PGA of America. (Courtesy of United States Golf Association)

Laude’s personal motto: “Train like no one else, so you can play like no one else.”

“I’m out there working every day,” Laude said. “Even if I’m doing good or bad, it just gives me momentum for me to play even better. My main goal is to play college golf, so when I see these college players and stuff I’m like, ‘I want to get to their level,’ so I try to work as hard as them.”

The regional skills tournament is the last step before the 2019 Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, the Sunday before the Masters Tournament.

Result notwithstanding, Laude plans to soak in stepping foot on TPC Sawgrass, which is home to the PGA Tour headquarters and hosts The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s signature event. It is also widely viewed as one of the top golf courses in the United States and the world, ranking No. 10 in Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.”

Said Laude: “I’d have to say that this is probably like my best career moment, going to a professional course that a lot of pros play at every single year. …It’s going to be a very nice first time, putting on really fast greens, with pretty good rolling fairways, too.”

Growing up, Laude’s first love was basketball, with golf always on the backburner.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that he realized his potential for golf, getting lessons from his godfather and other instructors in the Tampa Bay area.

Laude was always told he had “a natural swing,” as he’s since worked to fine-tune his alignment and more advanced mechanics.

It’s something longtime Wiregrass Ranch boys golf coach Mike Horrigan has noticed, when he observes Laude, who averages in the low 40s per nine holes.

“His swing is gorgeous, and he’s very polished on the course,” Horrigan said. “He just goes through the process of a pre-shot routine, and he’s very deliberate in everything that he does, and I suspect he’ll be shooting in the upper 30s before the end of this season.”

The coach added: “What impresses me about Fab is he has a very well-rounded game. When you watch him play, he’s improved in all facets of his game.”

Horrigan undoubtedly will be rooting for Laude at the Drive, Chip & Putt regional, describing him “as one of the most respectful, nicest kids I’ve ever coached.”

“I think the competition he’s gone through is just tremendous, to qualify to go (to TPC Sawgrass), so I’m really happy for him,” Horrigan said. “He loves golf, and he’s worked awful hard to become a very, very good player.”

Published September 12, 2018

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