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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Wildcat of the Year nominee: Lee Gearhart

Chico State men's golfer Lee Gearhart in a match earlier this season. Photo credit: John Domogma

Lee Gearhart has been hitting golfballs since the age of 12, though he was much more interested in playing baseball, basketball and football at that age.

Gearhart said his dad inspired him to pursue golf, which has led him to win three tournaments, one of which Senator John McCain congratulated him for, and an All-American Honorable Mention this year. Gearhart is also one of four males to be nominated for the 2014 Orion Sports Wildcat of the Year.

Gearhart was a Sacramento area native his entire life before becoming a Wildcat. While attending Roseville High School, he became intrigued with the game.

“When I was young, my dad used to golf with his friends and I would go with them and hit a couple balls while they were waiting for groups ahead of them to play,” Gearhart said. “Growing up I played baseball, basketball and football and didn’t think much of golf, but when I got to high school, my focus switched to golf.”

He only played basketball during his two first years of high school and earned a letter in it for his performance. Gearhart would also have played baseball, but it was during the same season as golf. During his senior year in 2011, Gearhart was named MVP in the Sierra Foothill League for golf. He then went on to meet with the Chico State head golf coach T.L. Brown and eventually committed to Chico State.

Brown said he has enjoyed having Gearhart on the team.

“I remember the day he gave us his verbal like it was yesterday, and time goes by quickly when you are a student athlete,” Brown said. “He understands competition and that it takes quality, hard work to be successful.”

Gearhart said that besides looking up to his father, who only missed attendance to one game this past season, he looks up to professional golfer Keegan Bradley, who won the 2011 PGA Championship.

“He is very jittery and always seems to be doing something,” Gearhart said. “I am a little less antsy than him, but I see a lot of me in him when I see him play.”

Gearhart’s teammate Justin Wiles said he enjoys having the “calmest guy he has ever been around” on his team. Gearhart is a hardcore grinder and never lets up, which is one of the many reasons he is able to do what he does.

The most recent accolade Gearhart received was the Rock Barn Collegiate Invitational in North Carolina. He was later congratulated that day at the airport by Senator John McCain. The team and McCain’s crew were both going through security at the same time when they started talking and discovered that Gearhart was a winner.

Gearhart has a unique ritual he performs every time he tees off, which may be the secret to his success.

He said he always makes a 5-foot putt right before heading out to the starting hole. He does it for the confidence boost it will give him, and it gives him a positive outlook for the rest of the day.

Last year, he had his most memorable moment, he said. After the team finished its last round at the regional tournament, it realized that it made it to the national level. During Gearhart’s first year, the team was two strokes off from making nationals, so making it last year was very rewarding for him and the team. The team played well and made it to semifinals, but ended up losing to the then-eventual champions, Barry University.

“Nationals was also a great experience, but I didn’t really know what to expect,” Gearhart said, “whereas at regionals, I knew what it was like and how bad it felt to be so close yet to know your season was over.”

Samuel Wolfson can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_sports on Twitter.

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