WALLA WALLA — Dakota Baker had never shot in the 70s competitively before Monday.
And after tying sort-of-teammate Ryan Baumgart for co-medalist at the Wildhorse Invite in Mission, Ore., he still hasn’t.
Baker, a senior at Waitsburg High School, tied Baumgart for low score of the day after carding a 69 on the par-72 course.
“I had never shot under par before in my whole life until that day,” said Baker, who competes and practices alongside DeSales’ golf team. “I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never shot in the 70s in a tournament, but I guess I can shoot a 69.”
Baker ended up losing the tournament to DeSales’ Baumgart, a two-time state champion who will be playing golf for NCAA Division III St. Martin’s this fall, in a sudden-death playoff after Baumgart birdied the second hole.
And the loss left him with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, Baker, Waitsburg’s lone golfer from a town that doesn’t even have its own course, had just beaten 46 golfers from the big-boy schools like Hanford, Pendleton, Wa-Hi and DeSales, even.
But after losing the playoff after missing a 12-footer for birdie and the win on the first hole, Baker just felt sad.
“I knew I messed up on both those putts on the first hole and the second,” Baker said. “I believed I pulled them both times. I learned something and I was happy I had the chance to tie the state champion from last year and play against him.”
Baker played the 10-team Invite conservatively and it showed in the scores. He didn’t make a bogey on the day and shot three birdies.
He realized it was going to be a special day when he made the turn at 2-under, but that did nothing to quell the rabble of butterflies stirring up a storm in his stomach.
“I felt nervous throughout the whole round,” Baker said. “I was just hoping I wouldn’t mess up on a hole. I just tried to hit the ball straight each time and concentrated on going through my routine before each shot.”
Baker’s nerves calmed down while he was practicing for the playoff, but by his first shot in sudden death he was as nervous as ever.
“I felt like I could hardly stand,” Baker said. “My legs were dead from the first 18, but when I was practicing I felt like I really wanted it — I got more serious and the butterflies went away.”
Baker’s previous best in competition was 80, but his low score at Wildhorse isn’t a total surprise. Baker regularly scores in the 70s in practice rounds and has long been hailed by DeSales coach Lon Olson as a good competitor and golfer. He placed 13th at state in 2011 and 16th in 2012, but that potential for greatness never showed up when the bullets were live.
It showed up on Monday, or as Baker referred to it on Tuesday, “That Day”.
“It’s a lot of pressure competing against two or three guys,” he said. “You know you want to do better and not make any mistakes. That day when I shot the 69, I wasn’t paying attention to anyone else’s scores — I was just playing my own game and I guess it worked.”
Baker has golfed since he was a tot — his grandfather, Paul Lommasson, began showing him the ropes as a youngster — but didn’t play competitively until his freshman year of high school.
Waitsburg, part of the Waitsburg-Prescott athletic combine, doesn’t have a golf team and it didn’t then. But he got the OK to play and practice with DeSales.
Since then he has set his goals on playing golf for Walla Walla Community College and hopes to earn a degree or certificate in professional golf management.
“I feel more confident now,” Baker said. “I know that I got second and all, but it taught me that I need to work on my putting. Hopefully when I get good at putting, I can get closer to shooting par most of the time.”
Baker didn’t win the tournament That Day, but he may have found the confidence to make a career in the sport he loves.
And that’s pretty cool.