Aaron Whalen methodically mapped out his summer well before the mercury began to rise.
He’s competed in a Professional Golfers Association qualifier, the JAGS Tour in Tempe, Ariz. (organized by the American Junior Golf Association), the Ryan Moore Junior Championship, the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men’s Amateur tournament and a pair of Washington Junior Golf Association sub-district meets.
The Ephrata golfer punched his ticket for the WJGA’s district tournament, which is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Cle Elum, and can qualify for state with a top-six finish.
The rising junior, who notched a 2A state title this spring as a sophomore, made it to the round of 64 at the PNGA Men’s Amateur tournament in Bandon, Ore., earlier this month, an impressive feat given the caliber of competition.
“I beat a lot of really top players, which was one of my big goals,” the 16-year-old said in a phone interview last week. “And from there it was just trying to win every match.”
The torrid pace of play and hectic travel schedule would be a lot to keep up with for most high school athletes, but Whalen isn’t your garden-variety prep golfer.
His natural athleticism makes him good, but his upbringing in a golf-centric family with a relentless work attitude give Whalen the opportunity to become great.
Aaron’s father, Joe Whalen, introduced golf at an early age. While that got the ball rolling, Aaron’s older brother Andrew, who will be a sophomore at Northwestern University this fall, has provided a stable supply of competition and encouragement.
“Aaron wouldn’t be as good as he is now if it wasn’t for his brother,” said Ephrata golf coach Greg Hewitt, who has worked extensively with the siblings and has coached the Tigers for 15 years. “They just push each other … It’s kind of a blessing for both of them.”
Hewitt went to school with Joe and has known the Whalen family most of his life. He taught the Whalen brothers in the fifth and sixth grades, and in driver’s education.
Hewitt used the Whalen brothers as team managers and golf ball shaggers well before they hit high school at Lakeview Country Club. The boys would spend long days fine-tuning their game at the golf course, located just outside Ephrata, and predictably, Hewitt has seen stable bouts of improvement over the last decade or so.
“Athletically, (Andrew) is very good,” Hewitt said. “He is just a real athletic kid — a natural.”
Whalen’s physical traits help his swing and technique tremendously, but its the intangible gifts that could land him a collegiate scholarship.
The life-long golfer hasn’t showed any signs of settling into complacency. He keeps his travel schedule booked and works with a number of coaches whom he exchanges video footage with in an on-going effort to develop.
During practice sessions, Whalen goes out of his way to put himself in frustrating and challenging scenarios.
A mental meltdown can easily override a polished swing, so Whalen has been working to master his emotions.
“You just kind of have to buckle down and not overthink what you need to do to get the job done,” he said.
The emphasis on composure seems to be paying off.
Aaron and Andrew’s games continue to improve steadily, but the mentally-draining sport is molding the brothers — particularly Aaron — into mature players, largely because of all the high-stakes tournaments and delicate predicaments with disaster looming.
“Aaron doesn’t get rattled from anything,” Hewitt said, “because he’s seen so much. Same with his brother.”
Hewitt called Andrew a “workaholic,” and it’s safe to say that disposition has been embedded in his younger brother as well.
Assuming Aaron continues to travel and put in long hours on the course, the future is bright.
“He’ll go to a big university,” Hewitt said. “I know schools are actively interested in him as well as how they were with Andrew. … He practices a lot, so I think it would be a big disappointment for him personally if he didn’t make a good college career, and who knows after that?”