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Short drive to the top

Manitoba Junior champ Cockerill played first tourney 3 years ago

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Every now and then in sport, the less you know, the better it turns out.

Meet Aaron Cockerill, former fanatical baseball player who has had a summer to remember as a junior golfer.

Certainly, the 18-year-old from Stony Mountain has authored the best season by a Manitoba male junior in at least a half-dozen years.

Three years ago, Cockerill was a baseball player who played only casual golf.

"When I was 15, the rural junior was the first tournament I ever played," Cockerill said. "And it was only because I was at a baseball tournament and it was right there (in Killarney), so my friend said to me, 'Let's play.' So I did and I won.

"It started from there."

Many kids start golf early, and they have their eye on the Manitoba Junior championship trophy -- the one that has belonged to the likes of George Knudson, Dan Halldorson, Todd Fanning, Rob McMillan, Adam Speirs and Ryan Horn -- for a long time.

Cockerill never heard of it until 2008, when he entered his first Manitoba Junior at age 16.

"I didn't really know about competitive golf," the Teulon member said. "The first year I played it (2008), I didn't even realize then it was that big a deal. Nobody knew who I was at the tournament, it was my first year in it and I had a big lead.

"I kind of got nervous and choked at the end, but it was a learning experience."

He took that knowledge from finishing second, beaten only by Kevin Giesbrecht's final-hole eagle, and again from finishing tied for third last summer, and formulated a winning game plan for 2010.

Cockerill captured that Manitoba Junior trophy in a playoff, despite shooting 80 on Day 3 of the 72-hole competition.

Trophy

A couple of weeks later, he had another trophy for the case, this from the CN Future Links Western Championship in Alberta.

From there, brimming with confidence, Cockerill finished tied for 10th at last week's Canadian Junior at Richmond Country Club in B.C.

"I think I was a little more focused this year most of the time," Cockerill said. "Like, I'd make a 20-footer somewhere, and I'd chuck a fist-pump now and then instead of just 'Oh, it went in.'

"Golf is always fun, but when you're playing well, it's more fun. I think this year my worst finish has been 10th, and there (at the Canadian Junior) that was really good. It kind of capped off the year."

At the Manitoba Junior, you'll remember, friend and rival Myles Sullivan bombed a 40-foot birdie on the final hole, forcing Cockerill to hole a 10-footer for par just to get into the playoff.

"Fourth day, once I got back to square, I just said, 'I'm not losing this for the third year in a row,' " he said. "Myles makes the 40-footer that broke six feet for a birdie. I had 10 feet (for par) but I just said to myself, 'I'm not losing this year.' "

Similar determination prevailed at the Canadian Junior.

"Last year, I played awful at the Canadian," he said. "This year, in the practice round, I was playing bad and thought, 'Oh, not again.' But on the first hole I hit it five feet and calmed right down and played good the rest of the tournament."

Playing his own game was a sure sign of maturity.

"I hit my fade out there all day and some guys hit it 50 yards by me and I didn't care," he smiled. "Normally, that kind of bothers me, but this time I just played my game and it worked out. I was very conservative."

Coming late tof competitive golf, Cockerill hadn't thought much about college golf or a career. Until this year.

He'll start at Texas A&M University-Commerce, near Dallas, later this month.

"This year, I'm kind of getting better, so I'm wondering," he said. "Maybe I can try to do something. That's why I want to try to do something, but get an education."

The winner answers some questions

 

POP QUIZ with junior champ Aaron Cockerill

 

Will Tiger Woods win anything in 2010? No.

Thumbs up or down on PGA Tour's new groove rule? Up.

Most-played track on your iPod? Something 50 Cent.

Your favourite sport after golf? Baseball.

Canadian course you haven't played you'd like to? The National.

Course anywhere you haven't played you'd like to? Augusta National.

Somebody you'd like to play 18 holes with? Hunter Mahan.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2010 C4

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