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Desert Vista's Matt Liringis will make the turn to professional golf

Photo courtesy of the Ahwatukee News

Matt Liringis is eschewing chances to play golf in college in order to chase his dreams of playing professional golf.

Today's elite junior golfers are fearless.

They go for the pin no matter where they are on a hole, get mad when their scores creep up to the high 70s and turn pro instead of going to college.

OK, so the third one isn't very common. But that's the route Matt Liringis of Desert Vista (Phoenix) plans on taking once he gets done playing for the Thunder this fall.

"I told (colleges) we are not interested and that I am going on a different path," he said after helping the Thunder to the Ahwatukee Cup title last week. "There are some schools that are still in contact by email, but it has quieted down.

"This is what I want to do, follow my goals and turn pro."

It takes some chutzpah to take this route — giving up a scholarship to a top Division I program — but he is hardly the first to attempt it. While there are plenty of examples of those who have tried — Hamilton's Richard Lee and one-time Queen Creek resident Kimberly Kim come to mind — the results haven't been all that positive.

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It's similar to lining up a 35-foot windy putt on a fast two-tiered green. While many putts get close to the cup, few find the bottom of the cup.

A lag putt isn't good enough when your livelihood is at stake.

Liringis and his family know this and have done thorough research. He will try some pre-qualifiers for local PGA and Web.com events, but will cut his chops on the All-American Gateway Tour, which has plenty of tournaments in Arizona and neighboring states, to cut down on travel costs.

"It's exciting," he said. "When you are a pro, 100 percent of your time is focused on that. It's one of those things you have to do to get where you want to go."

With that said, he is fully focused on helping the Thunder attempt to win their first state title after finishing as the Division I state runner-up four straight seasons.

He never considered skipping his senior year at DV while taking online courses.

Former St. Mary's basketball player Courtney Ekmark made news recently when she withdrew from the school in order to focus on basketball, while taking online classes, to make sure she is completely ready to play at the Division I level when she heads to UConn in the fall.

"I did that in the seventh and eighth grade," said Liringis, who was living in Scottsdale and Chandler then. "It helped with the golf, but I didn't like the academic part of it. If I have a question or need some help, I can get it almost instantly or set up a meeting (at a public school setting). Plus, socially it isn't the same as going to school."

Liringis, who switched from the long putter to a regulation size putter in preparation of the Jan. 1, 2016 rule change, is the defending Division I Arizona state individual champion when he shot 65-69-134 to win by six strokes.

He has done some good things on the golf course, including averaging a school-record 70.3 per round last season, but there is plenty of work to be done before now and his first pro tournament.

"It is very difficult for anybody in the world at that age, but that's what the family decision is and I hope he does well," Thunder coach Paige Peterson said. "He has an incredible work ethic, great swing and is a very good ball striker. What separates the amateur from the pros is inside 100 yards and he's not there yet.

"I've told him that and that's the biggest difference. If you ever play with a pro, he will be the best putter you ever saw. You have to be to make it at that level. I don't think he is the best putter right now, so he has to improve his short game before getting to the next level."

And Liringis, who tied for 45th at the Junior Worlds at Torrey Pines in mid-July, is ready to do just that while being inspired by people like Jordan Spieth, who turned pro midway through his sophomore year at Texas in 2012.

"I have to hone my skills while on the Gateway tour," he said. "The best-case scenario has me winning one of those to get a spot in a Monday qualifier on the Web.com Tour and I play well enough to make the cut and go from there.

"It is good seeing young people out there competing with guys who have been on the tour for 20 years. That's where I want to be and this is what we feel is the best way to do it."

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothills News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Follow on Twitter @JSkodaAFN and contact him at jskoda1024@aol.com.

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