For Grand Lake junior golfer, the season never ends
For 14-year-old Mason McCarthy, golf was a happy diversion from the other sports he’d played in, a place where his teammates didn’t have to take things too seriously.
Then his abilities surpassed his expectations.
Mason is one of the top 10 junior golfers in Colorado and the only competitive junior golfer from Grand County. He placed 26th in the state in 2020 in the 11- to 14-year age bracket, but he was only 12, the youngest player in the top 30 rankings.
Since then, he won the Pole Creek Jr. Championship by 4 strokes, shooting a 41 and finishing 5 over par in August. He won the PGA Jr. League All-Star Tournament with a 39 in July. And he made the Varsity Team at East High School in Denver as incoming freshman. Getting on the team was not a sure thing — 46 kids tried for 17 varsity spots. Mason finished eighth overall in tryouts.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re the star senior player, everyone must try out,” said Ed McCarthy, Mason’s dad.
Mason is a homeschooled student who brings the same dedication he has for learning to sports. He says he’s played every major sport there is, except hockey, but he becomes angry at people when they don’t do their job on a team.
“I love golf because it’s all me and I can always blame myself,” he said.
Ed introduced Mason to golf when Mason was 3 years old, but Mason didn’t fully embrace it until 2019. During the pandemic, his family moved from Denver to their second home, in Grand Lake, and Mason started playing more often. These days, during the summer, he plays nine holes of golf six or seven days a week. He says he’d do that all year if he could, but with school, his tee time is limited to four times a week.
The rest of his practice takes place on the putting green Ed installed in the family’s Denver backyard.
“We did that a couple of years ago, because we go on a lot of trips and we were getting tired of dead grass,” Mason said.
The artificial turf remains perpetually deep-summer green and springy. And it’s close by when Mason needs to step away from a tough homeschool subject.
“I’ll go out back and some chipping and putting will help me out,” he said.
As a lifelong golfer, Ed can’t say he wanted Mason to play, but as a dad he felt it was his job to introduce his kids to as many opportunities as possible.
Mason was “100% into different sports at different stages,” said Ed. There was soccer and lacrosse and rugby and football. All along, Ed would bring Mason to the fairway.
He never pressured Mason, but in 2019, “for whatever reason, he was getting frustrated with team sports,” said Ed. “It happened when someone wouldn’t pass him the ball or they missed a play.”
Ed repeated Mason’s sentiment about the unique nature of golf as an individual sport.
“You can’t blame anyone else — either you played well or didn’t,” he said. “And the big thing too with golf is with the footballs and other sports, you time out (physically). But golf is one of the few sports you can play your whole life 100%.”
As the school year begins, Mason expects he’ll step back on junior golf league tournaments, as he’ll likely be too busy with homeschool and high school golf. Still, he has goals for the upcoming season.
“(When I have done tournaments), I usually shot around 83 and the kids who are winning are shooting in the 60s,” said Mason. “I love to compete and I’m getting better mentally and physically. I’m working my way up to (shooting in the 60s). So right now I’m doing pretty good, I just need to get better. And the big thing is, I’m 14 right now and the kids who are winning are 17 and 18.”
Mason says it’s not all silver-plated putters and golden golf balls in high school golf either, though.
“Mostly I dread playing with kids who are complete jerks,” he said. “One ripped my score card in half and others play rap music on the golf course — it’s illegal. They’re just not very respectful.”
Mason says he respects the game and playing in Grand County.
“Playing Grand Lake, there’s a ton of wildlife,” he said. “Chipmunks are everywhere, plus the occasional fox and tons of moose and deer and elk. But something cool is on one hole, the ninth — if you go into the woods, there’s a little bird’s nest, and you can see the chicks. I think they’re sparrows. The mother goes back and forth constantly.”
Mason’s goal is to become the greatest PGA pro of all time, he said, and after a trip to Scotland he just might.
Ed said they visited the St. Andrews Old Course, established 600 years ago. There’s a two-year waitlist to play it but Mason charmed the guy in charge. The young Coloradan and his father headed to hole 18 at the Swilcan Bridge. It’s said if you tilt your hat on it, it’ll give you good luck.
The great American golfer Arnold Palmer started the tradition in 1995. Mason is carrying it on.
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