After his first nine holes at the 2015 CIF Central Area Championships, Dakota Rhea wasn’t too thrilled with how he was faring against the course at the Ridge Creek Dinuba Golf Club.
Starting on the 10th hole, Rhea, the defending Central Area individual champion, posted a three-over 39. Not a bad score by any means on the back nine of the links course, but it wasn’t one of the top five scores recorded on the challenging stretch.
The major red flag to Rhea’s round wasn’t his score, though.
It was his shrinking confidence.
The Redwood junior had two bogeys and a double bogey in three of the four holes right before the turn.
“I really struggled at the end of the [back nine]. I could not hit the ball straight. I talked with my coach, and told her that things just aren’t going my way today,” Rhea said. “She told to stick it out and play my best. She helped get my head on straight, and I played that [front nine] like no one’s business.”
Rhea, the 2015 Times-Delta/Advance-Register boys golfer of the year, put on a clinic.
He torched the course’s front nine to the tune of a four-under 32. He didn’t waste any time to get on a roll, sinking a birdie on the par-5 No. 1 hole. He went on to birdie holes 4, 6 and 9 — no bogeys over the front nine.
Rhea’s remarkable turnaround forced a playoff against Hanford’s Lane Pulliam, the tournament favorite. He defeated Pulliam on the second playoff hole to claim his second straight area championship.
Rhea was ecstatic to repeat as the area champion, but he felt his biggest achievement was having a part in Redwood’s capture of the West Yosemite League championship.
“It was just amazing. There’s really no other words to describe it,” Rhea said. “To see the team come together and play well is very rewarding.”
Rhea’s consistency was of great value to Redwood’s march to the league championship. He averaged a 74 over the league’s six 18-hole tournaments, and scored a 75 or below in five of them.
“He’s a fabulous kid. I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s been on the team for three years, and that he’s on it again next year,” Redwood coach Freddie Swing said. “He’s got such great potential. He was a captain for us this year, and played a big part on our team. He wants to continue to play [after Redwood], and he has the ability to keep going on.”
Rhea is the great-grandson of the late Roy Taylor, legendary COS baseball — led the Giants to the state title in 1957 — and men’s golf coach (1970-89). Rhea’s uncle Brandon Scott is an accomplished golfer in the state of Texas.
“In middle school, my original goal was to play golf in the summer, and play baseball during the spring for the school team. But in the sixth and seventh grades, I started playing golf more often. It’s just a great sport to play,” Rhea said. “Golf has definitely had a big role with my family. I’ve always had a little friendly competition with my uncle, trying to beat him. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s definitely on my list.”
Rhea’s list also includes a few items for the 2016 CIF season that he would like to correct from the end of the 2015 campaign:
•Despite winning the WYL title, the Rangers didn’t advance as a team to the Central Area tournament based on their team score in the final league tournament.
•Rhea was five strokes back from possibly earning a trip to the Southern California regional tournament.
“That performance at the Valley championship [tournament] definitely leaves me wanting more,” Rhea said. “I would also like to see the team move on [to the Central Section team tournament]. For [Redwood] to win area, and to move on to the regional, that would be my goals.”
He’s also looking at golf beyond high school.
“I want to play golf at the college level. That would be a fantastic opportunity,” Rhea said. “Just to make it to the college level is an amazing feat by itself.”
Rhea is looking into attending Abilene Christian University in Texas.
What life lessons has Rhea drawn from golf?
“Probably integrity the most,” Rhea said. “You have to be honest with yourself, and stay in the right mindset at all time. If you mess up on one swing, it could mess up your whole round. You have to stay positive and be ready for anything. But most of all, you have to be honest with yourself.”