WALLA WALLA — Dean Atkinson has an interesting way to prepare for the Class 4A state golf championships.
It began Saturday morning when the Walla Walla High School senior drove with long-time friend Dalton Broxson to his Army recruiter’s office in Kennewick, from which they carpooled to Yakima to take part in an Army National Guard unit’s weekend drill.
There he did things like learn how to march, PT (physical training), and learn how to exit a barracks quickly enough.
At 5:30 a.m., with Drill Sergeants providing a little extra motivation.
They didn’t exit quickly enough. Five times.
Sounds like good golf prep to me.
It was all part of the Recruit Sustainment Program, an Army National Guard program designed to prepare recruits for the rigors of Army basic training, which Atkinson will attend this summer before enrolling at Walla Walla Community College.
Atkinson said it helped him prepare for the state tournament, which is slated to begin Tuesday at Camas Meadows Golf Club in Camas, Wash.
“I loved it, I had a blast,” Atkinson said of the training.”When I was there at drill I had to be focused. We didn’t do anything too crazy, but when you’re doing PT you have to do everything correctly, every rep. So I think that helped keep me on edge, helped me focus a little bit more.”
After concluding RSP Sunday afternoon, Atkinson met up with Wa-Hi golf coach Jim Smith at Wallula Junction on the way back from the Tri-Cities and drove from there to Camas, which is east of Vancouver, Wash.
Atkinson’s practice round on Camas Meadows today will be the first time he’s seen the course, but this isn’t his first rodeo at state.
Atkinson made the tournament in both his sophomore and junior years, but he hasn’t yet made the cut to get to the second day — only the top 40 golfers and ties advance — after missing the cut by a stroke in 2011 and three strokes in 2012.
He has reason to be confident, though, given that he recently shot a personal best 1-under 71 in the second round of the District 5 championships at Pasco’s Sun Willows Golf Course.
“I’m feeling really confident this week about my putting and my irons,” Atkinson said. “My driver does need a little work, but I think I can struggle through it, and with my irons I think I’ll be able to shoot pretty well.”
Not having played the course, however, Atkinson isn’t expecting to win the tournament on the first day alone.
“I’d really like to shoot about 76 or 77,” Atkinson said. “I’m not expecting to shoot an incredibly low score like I did at Sun Willows. I’m expecting to have a few bogeys here and there, just because I haven’t played the course before. So if I’m four or five over par, I’d be pretty happy with that.”
After state ends things will begin to happen in rapid fashion for Atkinson, who graduates from Wa-Hi a 12-season athlete after playing football, basketball and golf for the Blue Devils.
On June 7 he will walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma, and less than a month later, on July 1, Atkinson will ship out for Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, S.C.
He swore his Oath of Enlistment in April, but this summer has been a long time coming for Atkinson, who grew up in a military family.
“My dad (Dean Atkinson, Sr.) has been a part of the National Guard for 27 years,” Atkinson said. “I was born in a military hospital — it’s been a huge part of my life. I guess there’s no way I could not do it.”
When he signed the papers and took the oath at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, it was a relief.
“Walking out the door, I just knew all the annoying stuff was done,” Atkinson said of the extended recruiting process. “All I have to do now is go to basic. Now I can start being a soldier.”
After graduating from basic, Atkinson will attend Advanced Infantry Training — or AIT, the military is famous for its love of acronyms — and be back home in time for the winter quarter at WWCC, or at least that’s the plan.
He plans on playing golf for the Warriors under coach Mike Rostollan, and he wants to get his pre-requisite classes out of the way to prepare to complete a four-year degree at Central Washington University.
Atkinson kicked for Walla Walla’s football team this past fall, and he was solid at that as well, leading the league’s kickers with 54 points on 33 extra points, four field goals and two touchdowns (as a receiver).
Central Washington recruited him as a preferred walk-on at kicker, but he instead chose to attend WWCC due to time conflicts with his training, which will run into the fall.
He still wants to go to CWU, however, and he plans to major in education, with an eye toward becoming a history teacher.
“It was kind of difficult with me wanting to play football,” Atkinson said. “I had Central and Eastern (Washington University) looking at me for kicking, but I just let that one go.”
After college, Atkinson wants to go to Officer Candidate School and commission as an officer in the Army.
But right now, Atkinson has a state championship to play in.
And then basic.
“I don’t really know where I’m at right now,” Atkinson said of his emotions regarding basic training. “I’m between nervous and excited. I’ll probably know where I am when I get on that plane. But I’m pretty excited just to get that experience going.”