If only Highland Golf Course was about 4,400 feet lower in elevation, 1,000 yards longer and pitted up against an ocean, perhaps Dawson Moon would have been more prepared for his rounds at Torrey Pines – the majestic San Diego golf course that has hosted a pair of U.S. Opens.
Moon, who graduated from Highland in May after finishing second in the 5A golf state championships – was hitting balls off the coast of the Pacific last week as part of the IMG Academy Junior World Championships, a premier youth event that featured players from all over the world and only a quartet from Idaho.
Prior to last week’s championships, all but a small few of Moon’s lifetime rounds came in either Idaho or Utah – which meant he had never tried to gauge distance with swirling ocean winds that could change direction midswing.
“You don’t know what you’re dealing with at sea level,” Moon said. “It’s a totally different ball game.”
Moon flew into San Diego last weekend and was able to play a Monday practice round at Torrey Pines before the onset of the four-day tournament. The course is a behemoth. Hitting out of the long rough is about as unpredictable as whacking a ball out of a child’s ball pit. Fairway bunkers are sinkholes littered across the course. And, as Moon found out, a 9-iron can go 164 yards on one hole then 200 yards the next.
Moon finished the tournament with rounds of 80, 84 and 81, which put him at +32 for the week but kept him on the wrong side of the cut. It wasn’t his best three days of golf ever, but considering the circumstances and the setting, it was a memorable three days.
“The experience of being where the greats have been and knowing wherever you step, you’ve stepped in the footprints of where Tiger (Woods), Phil (Mickelson) and Jack (Nicklaus) and those people have stepped,” Moon said.
The thoughts of Torrey Pines swirled around his head a little more than a week before he landed in San Diego. He was playing the 36-hole junior worlds qualifier at Canyon Springs Golf Course in Twin Falls, alone in the 16th-hole fairway with only his thoughts as a ruling on the green dragged out for a half-hour.
“You kind of get in your own head,” Moon said. “You sit there and just think about Torrey Pines and wanting to play there so bad. You have to just stay confident in yourself and not let those doubts get in your head.”
Most importantly, though, Moon flashed a grin. A little smile in the midst of pressure and panic has become Moon’s M.O., his way of acknowledging the angst but staying positive.
He finished up his 36 holes at 1-under then had to endure an anxious wait to see if he was among the top four headed to San Diego. Eventually the final group rolled off 18 and the scores were posted. Moon was third. He was Torrey Pines bound.
“I just remember being able to call my dad and tell him I made junior worlds, which was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had … I called all three of my brothers and my mom,” Moon said. It was the biggest accomplishment I’ve had in golf.”