2017 Golfer of the Year: Dotson’s competitive drive generated success in senior season

Stonewall Jackson's Nick Dotson tees off during the Class 1 and Class 2 State Golf Tournament at Heritage Oaks Golf Course in Harrisonburg in October. Dotson is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2017 Golfer of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily

QUICKSBURG – Between his eighth-grade and freshman year, Nick Dotson made a decision that changed the course of his athletic career at Stonewall Jackson High School.

As an eighth-grader in 2013, Dotson was the starting quarterback for the Generals’ junior varsity football team but dropped the sport for a combination of reasons before he began his first year of high school a year later. Also a basketball and baseball player, Dotson said he felt he would never be a “superstar” on the football field and, sensing that Stonewall could be competitive in the near future on the court and on the diamond, he preferred not to put his body through the physical toll of football season.

Dotson needed a fall sport, and given that he lived in close proximity to Shenvalee Golf Resort in New Market, golf seemed like a natural fit. Relishing the chance to participate in a team sport that places a heavy emphasis on individual performance, Dotson made the switch.

“It was the first time I’d ever gotten the chance to do my own thing,” Dotson recalled recently.

“I told myself if I really work and I dedicate myself and do what needs to be done, no one’s holding me back. I can be as good, or I’m capable of being as good, as I wanna be. That was something that just kind of excited me.”

Dotson’s competitive drive wasn’t going to let him become complacent on the links over the next four years, but his quest to become a successful golfer would be a gradual one.

He didn’t even own golf clubs a couple weeks before his freshman season was to start in 2014, and a “good” round for Dotson that fall was a 110. As a sophomore his best round of the season was a 91 and he cracked Stonewall’s starting lineup for the first time. He took another leap as a junior last season when he focused on improving his ball striking and lowered his personal best to an 82 and made an appearance with the Generals in the VHSL Group 1A state tournament.

Now Dotson is The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Golfer of the Year.

As a senior this past fall, Dotson took his game even a step further. This time with an improved short game, he lowered his best high school round yet again to a 72, averaged 78.4 strokes per 18 holes, won a pair of Shenandoah District mini tournaments during the regular season and won the year-end district tournament for the first time. He added a Region 1B individual title on Oct. 2, and a week later he finished his high school golf career with an 11th-place finish at the Class 1 state tournament in Harrisonburg.

“He’s really hyper-focused about little things in his game that he can improve on,” Generals head golf coach Steve Burkholder said, “so I would just attribute (Dotson’s improvement) to that focus, (which) he had last year but he just built upon. … He didn’t settle where he was. He continued to work and continued to get better, which is really impressive because a lot of that was just on him.”

Dotson’s competitive nature and his determination to fix the poor areas of his game was the key to unlocking his potential on the golf course. He set his mind to becoming more consistent on the links as a senior, he said, and things continually fell in his favor this season because he put in the necessary work to ensure they did.

“I wouldn’t leave the golf course until I got things figured out,” Dotson said. “Even on the bad days where things just weren’t going my way at all, no matter what it was, I mean, I was always just trying to get as much reps as I can, trying to seek as much knowledge as I could find. I think that’s why this year I was able to consistently be a good golfer, be one of the top scorers and be someone our team could count on. I think that was really the most satisfying part of the season.”

Though Dotson does schedule regular lessons with John Rogers, an instructor at Lakeview Golf Course in Harrisonburg and the head golf coach at Bridgewater College, whenever he discovers something in his game that needs fixing, he is also self-taught.

With all of the information now available online, Dotson said, he feels the only limit to success is one’s willingness to learn. He scours the internet to find solutions to his golfing woes, he said, and often shows up to his lessons with Rogers having already found a fix to his problem.

“Sometimes I did need to refer to other people, I couldn’t just figure it all out on my own, but I would definitely try first,” Dotson said. “I wasn’t just gonna give up or just keep doing the same old thing. I wanted everything to be perfect. You can call me a perfectionist. I know things aren’t gonna be perfect, but I mean I wanted everything that I did to be done the right way.”

That thirst for knowledge is bred from Dotson’s competitiveness, which he said was the foundation for everything he accomplished on the course during his high school golf career.

Even something as simple as losing a putting competition to teammate and good friend Yash Desai – whom Dotson credits with helping him enjoy the game of golf in his early stages even as his rounds soared into the triple digits – doesn’t sit well with Dotson.

“I will not leave if I lose,” said Dotson, who added that some of his fondest golf memories are of him and Desai hanging out on the putting green at Shenvalee as late as 10 p.m. “And if I do lose and he goes home, I’m kind of mad and I’ll stay there an extra 30 minutes because I wanna make sure the next day when I come back that I beat him by a ton, no matter who it is I’m going against. That also helps me because if I didn’t have that passion and that competitiveness I would’ve been maybe complacent or just kind of happy with good results.”

Given his competitive nature, Dotson wasn’t completely satisfied with his performance at the state tournament at Heritage Oaks, where he came in tied for seventh with a 78 on Day 1 but followed that up with a 83 on Day 2 and missed out on all-state honors by one stroke.

But his championship titles in the Shenandoah District and Region 1B tournaments helped make up for his off day at the state meet, and Dotson said his favorite part of the entire season was seeing he and his teammates doing “great stuff” on the golf course throughout the fall.

“We’re definitely gonna miss his leadership on the team,” Burkholder said.

“He showed them what it looks like. If you want something, you’ve gotta work for it, and Nick proved that. We’re gonna miss some of those leadership skills from him. And honestly I’m gonna miss, yeah, you talk about his character, but he’s just such a great guy.”