A quick study

Central senior Joseph Plauger returns to lead the Falcons' golf team this season after qualifying for the Group 3A state tournament last fall. Brad Fauber/Daily

BASYE – Compared to most high school golfers, Central senior Joseph Plauger is a newcomer to the sport.

It was only five years ago that he first picked up a golf club at the urging of his grandfather, a moment Plauger still can picture quite well in his mind. It was an April morning in 2010, Plauger recalled prior to the Falcons’ practice at Bryce Resort on Tuesday afternoon, when his grandfather offered to let him tag along to hit some balls at Jackson’s Chase Golf Course in Front Royal.

“He asked me if I wanted to go out to the driving range with him in the morning and I was like, ‘Sure, might as well.’ I was home schooled then, so I just put my schoolwork off until I got back, but I was a little too excited afterwards to be able to focus,” Plauger said with a laugh.

Instantly drawn in by the sheer challenge of the game, Plauger’s love for golf grew rapidly.

“It just kind of started with that, just the driving range out at Jackson’s Chase in Front Royal for the first couple times,” he said. “Then it progressed to where I went out and I played with [my grandfather] at Front Royal Country Club a couple times. It just progressed from there. By the end of my first year I was down to 104. That was my lowest score. Then it went down to low 90s the next year, then into the 80s the year after that.”

Plauger began attending Central High School in 2013 and when his junior year rolled around last fall, he emerged as the Falcons’ top golfer in the six-player lineup.

Building off a regional tournament appearance in his high school debut as a sophomore, Plauger soared to even bigger success in 2014. He placed second in the Region 3A East tournament when he fired a 74 at Brickshire Golf Club in New Kent and followed that with an 82 at the Group 3A state tournament at Ivy Hill Golf Club in Forest, a score that tied him for 15th place.

“During that state tournament I made sure obviously to focus on the golf, but whenever I wasn’t, I was looking around just kind of taking it all in and enjoying it,” Plauger said. “It was a lot of fun. … The experience was awesome.”

With an eye on a return trip to the state tournament (Central will compete in the Group 2A classification this season) and hopefully an all-state performance, Plauger is eager to once again lead the Falcons as a senior in 2015. And he’s continued to put in the work to ensure he’s ready for the challenge.

Plauger competed in the First Citizens Junior Golf Tour based in central Virginia for the second year in a row this summer, during which he won two tournaments and finished third in total points among 40 participants in the tour’s Coed 16-18 Division.

He also makes sure to get some practice time in before work at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal two or three days a week and, as he’s done since 2012, has continued to hone his game under the guidance of David Oates, the club’s PGA director of instruction.

“This is his life,” Central golf coach Jeff Walters said. “This is one of the kids where this is his sport, this is his thing. As far as the other people around the state that play golf, he was a latecomer to golf. But he’s worked so hard at it and it is his number one thing in life. It’s all he talks about. He watches golf. He goes to golf matches. I mean, just the other day he was three feet from Tiger [Woods] at [the Quicken Loans National in Gainesville]. Things like that, it’s fun to see a kid really get turned on to golf like that.”

Through his instructional sessions with Oates, Plauger said, the Central senior has seen a notable increase in shot accuracy and ball striking. Irons and wedges continue to be Plauger’s strength, he said, although his putting has probably seen the “biggest improvement over last year to this year.”

Aside from focusing on strengthening his mental game to help prevent a bad hole from compounding into multiple high scores, Plauger said he’d like to become straighter on his tee shots this fall, a feat that has often eluded him in his brief golf career.

Walters said Plauger’s devotion to sharpening his technical skill puts him in a category outside of the traditional high school golfer who excels in the sport through athleticism, or what Walters refers to as “feel players.”

“Joseph is not that. He is a technician,” Walters said. “This is where it’s out of my realm of coaching and I just try to stay with the mental aspect of the game with him and help him with that. But for the most part he’s really focused on his swing, his techniques and everything and he’s always been like that.”

Fellow senior Corey Sibert will join Plauger in Central’s lineup this season, with sophomores Luke Estep and Coy Jimenez rounding out a core of players that saw extensive action last season. The Falcons, who have 16 players on the roster this fall, will have four freshmen competing for the final two spots in the six-player lineup, Walters said.

Walters said he expects that competition will foster an extra drive for the Falcons this season and lead to more success in matches. Walters added that he hopes Central can be competitive in the Bull Run District and Conference 35 tournaments, with the ultimate goal being sending the entire team to the Region 2A East tournament.

“The future is definitely promising,” Walters said. “We’ve got some talent. And I think the way things line up for us, if we can all click at the same time I think we’ll have a good chance this year.”

The high school golf season starts today as Sherando, Skyline, Strasburg and Warren County compete in the Curly Licklider tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club, while Stonewall Jackson competes in a Shenandoah District mini-tournament at Gypsy Hill Golf Club in Staunton.

Central opens its 2015 season with a Bull Run District mini-tournament at Blue Ridge Shadows next Tuesday in Front Royal.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com