T.J. Baker got an early Christmas gift this past weekend.
The Grade 12 student at Carlton Comprehensive High School will have a chance to continue his golf career south of the border next fall as he’s committed to the University of Arkansas at Monticello Boil Weevils.
“It feels awesome,” Baker said. “There’s so much relief that goes with getting everything done now as well as I’m not as stressed out now from talking to all of the different coaches and going back and forth with e-mails.
“Everything really picked up around the middle part of August, as I started talking to schools on a regular basis. There’s a lot that goes into it, but it’s all very exciting.”
Baker, who plans to study business, will be joining a Boil Weevils program that competes in NCAA Division II ranks in the Great American Conference.
The school, which is based in a community of 9,467 people, took part in tournaments in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee during the 2019 season.
“There were a lot of things about the school that stood out for me,” Baker said. “The schooling there is really good and they have an excellent student to professor ratio.
“The coach (Adam Buie) really knows his stuff. If my swing is slightly off or if I need help on anything, I can go to him and he can put some touches on things here and there.”
This past season’s golf roster mostly consisted of athletes from the southern United States, but it also included competitors from France, South Africa and Zambia.
“It will all be new faces for me, but one of the other freshmen along with me next year is Chase Gedak of Estevan,” Baker said.
“He’s someone that I have competed with and against during the last few summers and it’s going to be awesome to have someone I know in the same year as me. Coach Buie said we can be roommates as well if we want to, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Baker, who golfs out of the Waskesiu Golf Course, is coming off of a busy season that included a fifth place showing at the provincial high school golf championships in Estevan and the chance to compete at the Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current.
“I didn’t have the best start to the season and I ended up missing out on a spot at the nationals this year, but I really start to put things together later in the summer,” Baker said.
“I was able to get a win at Warman in August (at the Maple Leaf Junior Golf Tour’s Golf Saskatchewan Order of Merit Championship) and that really helped me out a lot as it put me on the radar for a few coaches with how well I was able to do at that tournament.”
In addition to graduating from high school next June, Baker will be busy on the tournament trail once again as he prepares for his next challenge.
“I think my schedule will be pretty similar to what it has been in the past, but I will have to miss the Junior Lobstick at Waskesiu as I’ll be going down to Arkansas around then,” Baker said. “I’m a little disappointed about that, as it’s my favourite tournament of the year, but I’ll be pretty busy before then.
“I’m going to be working a lot on my swing and studying it as much as I can over the next few months, so if there’s something that I notice that I can change with it, I’ll be able to work things out myself before I go to school. Plus, I’ll be working out a lot in the gym to try and hit the ball further.”
Like any athlete, Baker has had a great support system around him that’s allowed him to achieve his goals.
“My mom and dad (Sheri and Tyler) have always been there for me, along with my sisters (Dakota and Samantha),” Baker said.
“Andrew Hnatiuk (who is the head golf pro at Waskesiu) has been a huge help and so has my coach at Carlton Taryn Rieger. She really likes to push me both on the course and in the classroom.”