El Niguel CC’s Luke Powell defies age and competes in top amateur events
It may be too soon to start making comparisons to Tiger Woods, but 15-year-old junior golfer Luke Powell of Laguna Niguel definitely shares the traits of a PGA Tour player.
“He reminds me of Justin Leonard when we were young,” said Wade Wilson, a PGA professional at El Niguel Country Club, where Powell has grown up playing golf. “Justin was well rounded socially as a kid but he knew at an early age that golf was his thing and he was really good at it. Luke is friendly, engages with people and enjoys conversation, but he is focused on his craft. At the ripe age of 15, he gets up every day and has a plan to be successful.”
Those attributes have been paying off for Powell in 2020. A sophomore at Capistrano Valley Christian School, Powell competed in two of the biggest amateur events in the state this year, the California Amateur Championship July 27-August 1 at Torrey Pines, and the 121st SCGA Amateur Championship at Goose Creek Golf Club August 17-20 – when he was still 14 years old.
As a boy among men, Powell was eliminated after the first two rounds in the California Amateur, but had a stellar performance in the SCGA Amateur Championship, shooting 2-under par for three rounds and finishing tied for 21st in a tournament that was, ironically, won by another youngster, 16-year-old Luke Potter from Encinitas.
“Going into 2020, I made the decision to challenge myself by entering as many top tier junior events as possible, such as Toyota Tour Cup events, AJGA events, and this year I entered and qualified for the California Amateur as well as the SCGA Amateur,” Powell said.
The accomplishments have impressed his coach.
“Luke can compete with anybody,” Wilson said. “He may not win, but he goes out planning to win every time. Age is not a factor. He doesn’t care what age his competition is because he realizes he can’t control that. He focuses on what he can control and what he can learn. We often talk about the importance of experience. At this stage of his career, gaining experience and learning to win is his focus. Every time he makes a swing, plays a practice round, or plays a tournament, the question he asks is, “What did I learn?”
We caught up with Powell after his performance in the SCGA Amateur Championship to talk about his game:
How did you get started in golf and how long have you been playing?
I was blessed to have grown up living on the El Niguel Country Club golf course. I have been watching golfers play in my backyard since I was a toddler. Watching golfers from such an early age is certainly what sparked my interest in the game. I started playing with a toy set of plastic clubs at 2, and grew rapidly into a set of real clubs by the time I was 4. My first round was played with my father at Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point. I was hooked from that very first round. A few years later, my father took me to El Niguel Country Club for an assessment with Wade Wilson. Based on Wade’s advice and encouragement, my family joined El Niguel and we have been members for the past four years.
What’s it like competing against older players when you’re so young?
Most of the time, I’m usually one of the youngest players in my events. I have learned to not be intimidated by older or bigger players. It is a test of skill, determination and mental toughness. Age and size do not intimidate me. I prefer to play with golfers that can push me to be the best I can be. I cannot control what they do, only what I can do.
What do you attribute to your success this year?
My hard work and great coaching. Playing a great deal of competitive golf since 7 has prepared me for today's challenges. I actually enjoy practicing and improving my skills. Tournament golf is completely different from practicing or recreational golf. The only real way to prepare for competitive golf is to play as many events as possible.
What is the best part of your game and why?
The strength of my game is off the tee. I may not be the longest hitter, but I am very consistent. So far this year, I've hit more than 80 percent of the fairways and that sets me up for strong approaches to the greens.
What do you enjoy about the game?
I truly enjoy competition and know that it pushes me to grow and improve my game.
What are some of the things you’ve learned playing junior golf?
Junior golf has been a truly amazing journey. The Junior PGA tournaments have provided me with a platform for experiencing competition and developing friendships with other competitive golfers. Junior golf has taught me to develop a never-give-up spirit. There have been times in events when I thought I was down and out, but I have learned to push through the challenges and to fight to the very end. I would say that perseverance and resilience are the two biggest lessons I have learned from junior golf.
What do you find is the most challenging part of the game?
The 6 inches between your ears. Focus and mental toughness are essential to success. There is always the challenge to believe in yourself on each and every shot. I need to believe I can make every shot and win every tournament.
How has your coach Wade Wilson helped you improve and grow?
I have known Wade for almost 12 years. I have attended several of his golf camps at El Niguel. He has helped me with every aspect of the game. Shot making, putting, swing and most certainly how to stay positive and to accept the game’s challenges as they come.
What do you hope to accomplish in the game of golf?
My goals for golf in my life are set in phases. Where I am now, where I will be in three years, and where I want to be post college. As for now, I want to play in highly competitive events in an effort to support where I want to be in three years. I want to play college golf at a top 20 Division 1 golf school with a top 20 academic ranking. Post college, I would love to give pro golf my best effort.
What one word would you use to describe yourself?
Determined. This is because I will push through every obstacle and never give up.
Who is your favorite player on the PGA Tour and why?
Justin Thomas. I think he is a gifted golfer with great on-course demeanor and style.
What is your best round of golf ever and where?
My best round of golf to date is a round of 68 which was played at El Niguel Country Club from the black tees when I was 14.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I think people would be surprised to know that I played basketball and football when I was younger.
What is your most treasured golf possession?
Who would be in your dream foursome?
Jesus Christ, Tiger Woods, and Justin Thomas.
What do you do for fun when you’re not playing golf?
I enjoy snowboarding and mountain biking.
What big events do you have coming up on your schedule?
I’m playing in the SCGA Junior Amateur in October, and I’m attempting to qualify for the SCGA Four Ball with my playing partner Kyle An on October 12. I will add in a few more Toyota Tour Cup events in the final quarter of this year.
What event are you most looking forward to and why?
The events that I am most excited about are the AJGA tournaments, as I want to attempt to get a top-5 finish in hopes of becoming fully exempt for that tour.
Greetings, fellow golfers, and welcome to SoCal Golf Insider! We are Rob Lyon and Eric Marson and we've been reporting and writing about the game throughout the region since 1995. Here, we will provide you with the latest news, features, reviews and more on all things golf in Southern California. Let’s tee it up!
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