Prep Golf: Salisbury’s Austin going to Sandhills Community College
By Ronnie Gallagher
SALISBURY — Jeff Austin will now be just “Daddy.”
The general manager of The Club at Irish Creek has been teaching his son, Alex, the game of golf since he first picked up a club at age 4. The former East Carolina golfer jokes he’s now turning his son over to former N.C. State star Gus Ulrich, who happens to be the head coach at Sandhills Community College.
Austin, a senior at Salisbury, signed recently with the junior college powerhouse.
For Austin to sign a college scholarship is quite a feat, considering he was never able to crack Dale Snyder’s loaded lineup until this season.
In his freshman year, Austin watched as Salisbury finished second in the state. He stood on the side the past two years as the Hornets won back-to-back state titles.
Snyder agonized over Austin’s exclusion, always praising his ability. So Austin’s current goal is simple — win a crown with him actually on the course.
“It motivates me a lot,” Austin smiled. “The last two times, I was sitting on the bench.”
That motivation showed as soon as last season ended. He spent a lot of time at Irish Creek honing his game.
“The first three years were really hard to crack a lineup with a lot of good players,” Austin said. “But golf’s a game you can’t get frustrated with. You just keep plugging and working hard.”
It’s paying off. He has tied for medalist honors twice, once shooting a 1-under at the Irish Creek Invitational, where he lost to teammate Eric Edwards in a playoff. The other came in a match at the Country Club of Salisbury.
Austin says the best part of his game is ball-striking. Hitting 14 of 18 greens in a match is a common occurence. Snyder has even mentioned that Austin is one of the best ball-strikers to come through Salisbury.
“That’s an honor for him to say that,” Austin said humbly.
Austin was a miracle baby, weighing 1 pound, 9 ounces at birth. But by the age of 12, with a lot of fatherly love, encouragement and practice, he was playing competively. As a 98-pound 14-year-old, he was ripping drives of 250 yards. By age 15, he was showing signs of what could be.
And even as a prep golf “benchwarmer,” colleges noticed. Austin was offered by Pfeiffer and could have gone to Charlotte as a walk-on.
“But I picked Sandhills so I can get my grades better, get my game better and transfer wherever I want,” Austin said.
Sandhills had a recruiting advantage. Ulrich happens to be Austin’s swing coach and knows him well.
Which means they’ll hook up Pinehurst, which is heaven for any golfer.
Ulrich took over in 2008 and has taken Sandhills to great heights. The Flyers have been third and fifth in the NJCAA Tournament. They won Region X titles in 2010 and 2011.
“I love the area,” Austin said. “I’ve spent a lot of time down there.”
With a scholarship sewn up, Austin said he and Edwards have goals for the rest of their Salisbury teammates.
“I want to kinda lift them up,” he said.
He also has goals for his coach, adding, “What I want to do is win a third straight championship and do something for Snyder that’s never been done — win three in a row.”
If the Hornets make it to the final day, you can bet Alex Austin will be doing more this time than just watching.
He’ll be swinging a club.
And hopefully striking the ball well enough to win the whole thing.
As well as he’s playing, that won’t be a miracle.