When John Souza arrived at Thunderbird High in Phoenix as a freshman and played on the school’s golf team, he was, shall we say, a bit undersized.
He had to stand on his tiptoes to hit the ball off the tee.
Get outta town. Really?
No, but reality wasn’t too far off.
He stood 5-feet-3 and barely weighed 100 pounds.
“He always had a great short game but he could not drive the ball very far,’’ said Thunderbird coach Eric Gurule. “We always knew he had the capability of being a great golfer.’’
Now Souza is all grown up at 5-10 and 130 pounds. Still not big by some standards, but for him, the additional seven inches and 30 pounds make a world of difference.
The senior is one of the reasons why the Chiefs have a very good chance to repeat as Division II champions.
He tied for 69th as a freshman, tied for 19th as a sophomore and finished fourth as a junior in 2012.
“I’m still not a long hitter, but at least now I have a chance,’’ he said. “With a short iron in my hand, I can get the ball pretty close and within 15 feet, there is a good chance the ball is going to go in.’’
This summer, Souza qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship in Truckee, Calif. Even though he lost in the first round of stroke play, Gurule said, “We hoped it would be a big help to his leadership and confidence moving into his senior season, and it has been.’’
Gurule still marvels at Souza’s short game.
“He’s as good as anybody in the state from 175 (yards) in,’’ he said.
Of the U.S. Junior Amateur, Souza said, “I had played in a lot of tournaments, but this was the first time it was really on a national stage. Just to be there was amazing. The course was amazing. You really want to do well. I was excited and nervous. You try to think like it’s any other round. I just tried to go out and have fun.’’
He believes the experience helped him and will help him give advice to his teammates, not allow them to get too down on themselves when the ball doesn’t go where it is supposed to and not allow them to get too excited when they are on a roll.
“You want to try to play as consistent as you can,’’ he said.
Said Gurule: “He is a humble kid, very mature for his age. He has always looked at the bright side.’’
Souza has been linked to the game for has long as he can remember. His father, also named John, works for PING fitting PGA Tour players for their clubs. His father also started a program at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix called Junior Golf University that has expanded into other states.
Souza and most of his Thunderbird teammates were involved in the program.
“We learned a lot of skills,’’ Souza said.
The Chiefs share a strong bond, and he hopes that will help lead them to another title.
“We hang out at each other’s houses, playing video games and ping pong,’’ he said.
They try not to put pressure on themselves.
“Sometimes it’s a tough thing to repeat, but I think there would be more pressure on seniors like me and Logan Gardner if we had not won last year and we are trying to win it this year in our last chance,’’ Souza said.
Souza would like to play on the PGA Tour some day and perhaps become a golf pro. He also knows he needs to gain an education. He is an honor student and is taking calculus and physics classes.
“I think I have done a good job so far, but I admit it is tough,’’ he said.
Studying to become a mechanical engineer is a possibility, but he will play things by ear. He wants to play college golf, but might start out at a junior college in the Valley before deciding on a bigger university.
It’s a big world out there, and Souza appears to have the proper approach. With that in mind, he should not have to stand on his tiptoes for any reason.