At home on the golf course

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For North Murray’s Gage Winkler, there’s no such thing as a bad day on the golf course, even on those rare occasions in which he doesn’t play particularly well.

The rising senior with a 3 handicap plays golf every day and has for years. The hard work and dedication have paid off, too, because he continues to compete among the very best players in the state. Winkler, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga commit, finished fourth in the Class AAA state tournament a year ago and has his sights set on a state title this year.

“I want to win area and then state,” said Winkler, who is fresh off a third place finish in the Georgia Club Junior Classic last month and a T12 finish at the Georgia State Junior Tournament the last week of June. “I feel like I’ve had a good chance every since my freshman year. It’s very doable.”

Winkler began his golf career by playing with his father and, while he played other sports as a child, he excelled most on the links.

“I played baseball when I was young,” said Winkler, who takes lessons from Bill Hassell at the Cartersville Country Club. “But I started playing golf a lot, going out there with dad, and realized I was pretty good at it and started working hard and trying to get better.”

Winkler stuck with golf, believing it would give him the best opportunity to advance to the next level. It was a game that didn’t require size or exceptional athleticism, just focus and dedication, which were qualities he certainly possessed.

“I knew I wasn’t ever going to get a free education or anything like that (in other sports),” said Winkler, who credits his wedge-game and putting as strengths. “I just love playing golf, honestly.”

Winkler earned three tournament wins on the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour in 2019, including victories at the SJGT Gulf Shores Junior Classic in November, the SJGT Harris English Invitational in September, and the Hampton Cove Classic in April. He spent last week playing in the Press Thornton  Future Masters Golf Tournament in Dothan, AL. He expects to be able to play a full schedule in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

“I wouldn’t say it has impacted anything with golf,” he said. “In fact, there’s a lot more golfers at the golf courses.”

As previously mentioned, Winkler committed last year to play golf at UT-Chattanooga. While considering his college of choice, UTC had everything he was looking for in a school and golf program, he said.

“Really excited,” he said. “Coach (Ryan) Heisey and Coach (Mark) Guhne are great. Can’t wait to be there. I committed around December (2019). The facilities there are better than I have been to at a lot of places. You couldn’t match the facilities anywhere I went.”

Winkler said the attention he received from the UTC coaches made a big impact on him, especially their willingness to travel to different tournaments to watch him play. That sort of loyalty was what helped him make his final decision. The campus and proximity to home were important factors as well.

“It’s close enough but far enough if that makes any sense,” he said. “The coaches. Love the coaches. I think I played in 18 two-day tournaments last year and they were at 16. Something like that. They only missed two rounds and they would travel. Some coaches tell you they want you, but they showed me.”

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