By Brad Fauber
Joseph Plauger could sense that he was in for a long day as he warmed up prior to last Saturday's Virginia State Golf Association junior tournament at Fauquier Springs Golf Club in Warrenton.
Plauger, a 15-year-old Woodstock resident who only three years ago picked up a golf club for the first time, wasn't impressed at all with his shots on the driving range as the 2 p.m. tee-time approached. Aside from a few good shots with his driver, Plauger couldn't seem to hit anything well.
So you can imagine the shock that Plauger felt when he fired the best round of his young golf career, finishing the day with a four-over-par 75. Plauger's career low was not only the lowest score carded among the four boys competing in the 14-15 year-old age group, but it was the lowest by far among the 15 boys and girls (ages 12 to 18) who competed in the tournament.
"I was pretty surprised," Plauger, who finished six strokes ahead of the next closest competitor, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "On the driving range warming up I wasn't hitting it well at all. I was just kind of like, 'Let's just get this day over with.' Then once the tournament started things began to fall in."
Plauger's outstanding round came despite the fact that he struggled with his tee shots on the early holes, although Plauger said he did recover to hit seven of 13 fairways in the round.
Plauger also hit eight of 18 greens in regulation, a personal best. He finished with a total of 10 pars, two birdies and six bogeys.
Plauger said his two birdies came on holes 3 (140 yards) and 11 (164 yards), both par-3s. Both times Plauger used a 7-iron to place the shot within two feet of the hole, setting up easy birdie opportunities.
In addition to a consistent approach game that was critical due to the fast greens, Plauger also putted well, particularly on the back nine, where he knocked down putts from about eight feet out on holes 16 and 18 to save par both times.
Plauger said his short game is his strength, and he frequently works on his chip shots in the yard of his Woodstock home. Plauger's father, Charles, said it's his son's eagerness to constantly improve that has allowed him to improve his game so quickly.
"He's the kind of person who is meticulous ... he's always been like that," Charles Plauger said. "He always watches the Golf Channel, he goes out into the yard to hit golf balls. He's very detailed."
Joseph Plauger is still relatively new to the game of golf, as he didn't pick up the sport until his grandfather took him to a driving range around three years ago. Plauger admits that he fell in love with the game as soon as he took his first swing.
"[I like] the challenge of hitting the ball, trying to get it into that hole that's about 400 yards away or so," Plauger said. "It's challenging, it's hard and it can be frustrating at times. But I really enjoy it."
Since that first experience at the driving range with his grandfather, Plauger has been serious about improving his golf game, and he even receives training from David Oates, the PGA Director of Instruction at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal.
Plauger has trained with Oates around 15-20 times over the last two years, and Plauger said Oates has been the main reason why he is beginning to find success in the VSGA tournaments, which he said he participates in about five times each summer.
Those tournaments have been the only structured competitions that Plauger has been able to participate in, as he has been home schooled since his family moved to the area from Maryland a few years ago.
Plauger hopes that will all change in a few months, as he plans to attend Central High School in the fall.
"I really want to get on the golf team, and I also want to try to get a scholarship to a bigger [college]," Plauger said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org