Emie Ochoa didn’t grow up on the links.
Ochoa, who will be a senior at Buhach Colony High School, would share an occasional afternoon on a golf course with his dad but didn’t get serious about the sport until his freshman year.
“I’d go out with my dad over the years, but I definitely didn’t consider myself a golfer,” Ochoa said. “What really got me into it was my cousin, Manuel Martinez. He played all four years at Atwater.
“Something just felt right when I was out there. I knew it’s what I wanted to do, and I knew I wanted to get better at it.”
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Ochoa has. While it’s not uncommon for kids to take up the game in their freshman season, they rarely rise to star status. In three years, he’s gone from golf novice to the Sun-Star Boys Golfer of the Year.
“We’ve had a lot of really good kids come through this program in my time here, but they had almost always grown up playing golf,” Buhach Colony coach Rich Cometta said. “I’ve never seen a guy come in with almost no experience and make up the kind of ground that Emie has.
“At the same time, it’s not that surprising. He’s the hardest-working kid on our team, and he’s earned everything he’s accomplished.”
How far has Ochoa come? He averaged rounds in the mid 50s as a freshman, when the Central California Conference played nine-hole rounds. That would equate to a round of about 108 to 110 over 18 holes. Two years later, Ochoa was routinely shooting in the 70s, including a second-place 77 at this year’s Central California Conference Championships.
“The first summer, I worked my butt off and was able to cut nine strokes off of my game,” Ochoa said. “This year, I worked even harder and cut it another 17 strokes.
“My short game got a little better this season and I got two inches taller. That got me more distance this year, and I think that really helped me.”
A competitive rivalry with teammate Colton Freitas didn’t hurt either. Freitas was the Thunder’s unquestioned No. 1 the last two years. It gave Ochoa a target to aim for, and in 2014 his scores began to surpass his teammate.
“I love the inner squad competition,” Cometta said. “Not only do they want to beat the other guy when they’re out on the course, they want to beat each other.
“Colton and Emie really push each other. And then we have another kid that doesn’t like to lose to Emie. With everyone coming back next season, I’m excited to see where that competitive spirit can take this group.”
One thing is certain – the expectations will be higher.
After just missing out on the CCC title to Turlock, Buhach Colony answered with a win at the CCC Championships and a top-three finish at the Division I South tournament.
The Thunder rounded out the season with an 11th-place showing at the section Masters, the best finish in school history.
“It motivates us a lot, really,” Ochoa said. “Coming into the season, we didn’t know we would be this good and make it this far. A lot of people are hoping we can exceed what we did next season.
“The main goal is definitely going to be the CCC title. After that, we’ll see.”