As last summer began to ebb into fall, Eric Bae came to the realization that as the seasons passed him by, so did his junior golf contemporaries.
"You see everyone else who I used to play golf with start getting into invitational tournaments that I am not getting into,” said Bae, 17, of Pinehurst, N.C. "When that happens you just realize that you’re not good enough."
Not good enough?
At that point, Bae could have put away his clubs and moved on. Instead, the rising senior at Pinecrest High School stayed faithful to a game he had been playing since age 6.
“It really grinded my gears,” said Bae. “It was a longtime thing that was building up and I finally decided to do something about it.”
He began to practice more. He began to play more.
This week’s 68th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course may be a barometer of how much progress Bae has made.
A year ago at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas, Bae shot a championship record-tying 29 on the inward nine of his second round to make the 64-player match-play field. He reached the Round of 32.
"I kind of messed up coming in on my second match and I feel like I could have gone a lot deeper in match play,” said Bae of last year’s experience. "But I just enjoyed it. You don’t always get to play in tournaments this big that much."
Knowing he may have left some chips on a table that was cleared by eventual champion and potential Wake Forest University teammate Will Zalatoris served as more motivation for Bae.
Soon after the championship, Bae and his family moved an hour south of their home in Raleigh, N.C., to Pinehurst so that Bae could play for Pinecrest, one of the state’s top golf programs.