Washougal golfers lead Panthers to championship match

Seniors missed opportunity to compete at state level this year, but worked to improve game despite pandemic

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Washougal High School seniors Chase Baldwin (left) and Oliver Evers lead the 2020-21 Washougal boys golf team. Baldwin and Evers both qualified for the 2A state tournament in 2020, which was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

In the fall of 2019, Washougal High School golfers Oliver Evers and Chase Baldwin qualified for the 2020 2A state tournament. which was scheduled for May but eventually canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They won’t be able to test their skills against Washington’s top high-school players this year since the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association eliminated state events in all sports for the 2020-21 school year, but the two seniors are working harder than ever to improve their games.

“The best way to describe both of them is that they’re grinders,” said Panthers coach Greg Lewis. “Both put in a tremendous amount of time working on their game. They’ll play nine holes at practice, then go hit a bucket and chip and putt, still at the course long after everyone else has left.”

Evers and Baldwin will lead the Panthers in the team’s 2A Greater St. Helens League championship match in Longview on Monday, March 15.

Lessons help Evers take game to next level

Evers started playing golf about 10 years ago after his grandfather recommended the sport.

“I fell in love with it right away,” he said. “A lot of people can’t handle golf because they need to be moving – football players, basketball players, soccer players have to be on the move and doing stuff as a team. But I never really sought that out. I like that golf is not perceived as a physical sport, but in reality, it really is. You have to be flexible if you want to hit the ball further.”

Evers qualified for the Panthers’ varsity squad as a freshman, shooting in the mid-40s. He’s taken seven or eight strokes off his score since then, and hopes to improve even more now that he’s taking private lessons.

“I do a lot of research into the mechanics of the sport and the knowledge of the game,” Evers said. “Last year, I was struggling with a slice at the district tournament. Afterwards, I told myself, ‘I want to change that.'”

Evers said he worked on his slice during the pandemic but eventually hit a breaking point.

“It was like, ‘At some point I’m going to start beating myself up in my mind and it’s really going to hurt me,'” he said.

Instead, he decided to take private lessons.

“That was something I had been procrastinating on,” Evers said. “But I told myself, ‘You might not know certain aspects of the game, so just get some help, and once you get some help, it’ll be all better.'”

Evers also has a busy academic life and said he has developed a special bond with the Washougal High School special needs community, serving as a teacher’s assistant for the special education department and helping the Panthers’ Unified basketball team.

“I care a lot (about the special-needs students),” Evers said. “Helping out feels so good because they get disrespected all the time. I feel bad for them. I was kind of an outcast as a little boy, so I’m empathetic. They love (Unified basketball). It’s the best part of their day. It’s amazing to see their smiles. And I got to help guide a kid through a drama class, which was really fun. Seeing this guy absolutely amazed by the stage was really cool.”

Evers plans to attendClark College next year and eventually transfer to a four-year university. Although he is drawn to hands-on trades, Evers said he is focusing on a golf-related career right now.

“I took a metals class, and I was like, ‘This is interesting. It’s hands-on. I like it,'” Evers said. “But metal and fire weren’t for me. I tried woodworking and I loved working with machines and turning terrible-looking pieces of lumber into something that’s beautiful on my own. But I’m looking into turf management for golf because I love it so much. Greenskeeping, mowing the grass, knowing how to keep it looking amazing — mainly I’m looking into keeping a course in really good shape.”

Baldwin thriving after back surgery

When Baldwin was younger, he played several sports, including baseball and basketball. But he started to focus on golf as a middle-schooler when he began to play more regularly at Orchard Hills Golf Course.

“At first, I just loved sports. I used to play baseball and basketball, and (golf) was just another sport. In the summertime, (golf) was free every Wednesday afternoon at Orchard Hills, so I just played it to play and have fun,” Baldwin said. “Then, later down the line when I got older, I was kind of like, ‘I enjoy golf more than baseball and basketball.’ I love how challenging it is, even though it can be very frustrating sometimes. You’re always adapting your swing or (tweaking) your putt or chip or trying to find new ways to make it easier and improve your game.”

Baldwin has worked especially hard to improve around the greens. As a relatively short hitter off the tee, he knows that effective putting and chipping will help him stay competitive with the area’s best players.

“I don’t hit the ball that far, so I’m more of a short-game player,” said Baldwin, who has been shooting mostly in the high-30s this season. “I try to be more consistent, hit the same shots straight and be accurate. But the short game, that’s definitely the thing that I have to work on. The long range is important, but the short game is what can save me a lot of strokes.”

Baldwin’s high-school career got off to a great start when he made the Panthers’ varsity team as a freshman, but was put on pause after he underwent back surgery at the end of the season. Baldwin was born with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, which forced him to wear braces when he was younger, and he had always known he would likely face back surgery during his teen years.

The surgery — which installed two titanium rods into his back — and ensuing rehabilitation forced Baldwin to miss his entire sophomore season on the links. He was disappointed, but remained confident he would come back strong.

“When I first heard about the surgery, I wasn’t really thinking about golf or sports. I was just kind of shocked — time flew and I finally had to have the surgery,” he said. “It was a bummer because I would miss my sophomore year of sports. But then I looked at it like, ‘Well, they said that I’d be back, so just keep going and take it day by day to get better, and I’ll soon be back out there.’ My doctors were awesome, and I recovered fast.”

Unable to walk immediately after the surgery, Baldwin said he focused on the day-to-day milestones. Reaching the point where he was finally able to golf again was satisfying, Baldwin said.

Like Evers, Baldwin plans to attend Clark College before transferring to a four-year university. He also enjoys some of the same trades Evers mentioned.

For now, though, Baldwin is keeping his career options open and said one of his dreams is to someday start his own business.

“I’m more into the woods and metals (classes). Those are kind of fun. I enjoy making stuff,” Baldwin said. “I just enjoy something besides sitting in a classroom and reading or doing math. It’s kind of fun to do something else different than usual school.”