West Xtra: West Allegheny golfer shows maturity on course

AMATEUR GOLF

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When Jake Gazella played on the Butler's Woodside Golf Course in 2013, he hit it into a bunker on the par-3 No. 15 hole and carded a triple bogey, destroying his round.

On June 10, Gazella again found himself in the bunker on No. 15 at a King's Junior Golf Series event. This time he scored a double bogey and followed with a bogey on No. 16.

"I thought, 'Great, here we go again,'" Gazella recalled.

But a year older and a year wiser, Gazella was able to regroup to finish out his round with two consecutive pars to not only win the event title for the 15-16-year-old age group by five strokes, but finish in a tie for first among all competitors (there is also a 17-18 age group).

Gazella's ability to keep his focus even when things take a turn for the worse is the skill he believes he's improved the most since last fall, when he qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals while playing for West Allegheny.

"My biggest improvement is mostly in my head," Gazella said. "Just the ability to let bad shots go and getting back into a rhythm. My swing is going to be on and off, but you have to keep playing."

Gazella said his maturity just comes with playing more golf, which he's done this summer.

The tournament at Butler's in Elizabeth Township was one of four Kings Junior Golf Series events he had played this summer entering the week, with two more scheduled for this week. In his first four events, he finished in the top five in his age group all four times.

He'll look to carry that play into his senior season with the Indians this fall.

"Last year wasn't bad, but it wasn't that good, either," Gazella said. "It went better at the end of the year. If I want to get a scholarship, I'll have to do better. I want to come in and go to states this year."

In addition to finding success on the golf course, Gazella is an accomplished inline hockey player. Playing center, Gazella helped the Pittsburgh Bandits finish second in a national tournament in Philadelphia earlier this month.

Gazella said his love for golf is stronger than hockey, but that doesn't mean he hasn't carried anything from the rink to the golf course.

"When you're down, you can fight back," Gazella said. "If you're down a few strokes toward the end, it's like you're down, 3-0, in hockey. You still try to fight back and win."

He showed that trait last month at Butler's, as he continued to fight even when adversity struck toward the end of his round.

If his mental game continues to improve, he could reach his goals of qualifying for the PIAA tournament as well as obtaining a scholarship.

"The mental game is what separates the good golfers from the average golfers from the golfers who can't do anything," West Allegheny coach Dave Botizan said. "The ability to focus and to grind it out -- that's what made Tiger Woods so great.

"I don't see any reason why Jake couldn't be a contender in the regional and even the state with his natural ability. ... He has that potential."


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