‘Big Jake’ will be looking for birdies with Gardner-Webb
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan senior Jake Kennedy is bigger than life — student body president, leader of West’s cheering section, and a golfer good enough to sign a scholarship with Gardner-Webb.
Kennedy touches a lot of people, and that explains why folks from all ove poured into West’s media center to watch him sign with the Division I Bulldogs last week.
And, of course, they came to hear him speak.
Kennedy who has yet to meet a stranger, probably has made as many speeches as birdies in his lifetime, and he can stand up in front of a crowd and orate like a senator.
As West’s unofficial ambassador to the rest of the world, Kennedy stays busy.
“I love West and I love everything about West, and if West is placing a sport somewhere I’m there,” Kennedy said. “If West is in a swim meet, I’m there.”
Still, he’s found time to become an outstanding golfer. The latest N.C. Junior boys rankings list him 49th out of 418 competitors. Kennedy’s buddy, South Rowan’s Davis Richards, a junior committed to N.C. State, is 12th on that list.
“Davis is my best golfing friend,” Kennedy said. “If one of us struggles, the other one always picks him up. Don’t get me wrong, I try to beat him as much as I try to beat anyone, but we’re friendly rivals.”
A few months ago, Kennedy and Richards shocked the world. The teen titans teamed up to win the prestigious Labor Day Four-Ball Tournament at the Country Club of Salisbury.
Kennedy got his golfing start early with a set of plastic clubs. He also recalls his father making him a 3-iron.
He remembers moving to Rowan County, and he remembers that his first Rowan friend was Michaela White, now a Carson volleyball star. Kennedy appeared at Carson when White signed with Charlotte last week, and shook hands with just about everyone in China Grove. Even at Carson, everyone knows “Big Jake.”
Kennedy’s grandfather Carl Dean was just plain “Gramps” to Kennedy, and realizing the youngster had a knack for golf, he took him to Carolina Golf Mart for lessons.
“In middle school, I was still trying to play everything — basketball, tennis, football and golf,” Kennedy said. “Then I cut back to football and golf, and then to just golf. I wanted to be good at one thing instead of mediocre at a lot of things.”
It was a great decision.
“Jake’s got a love for the game and a passion for it and the mental fortitude to play golf very well,” West coach Mary Ann Martinelli said. “He’s coachable and willing to work on things.”
Kennedy surprised everyone when he made the state tournament as a freshman in the spring of 2011. That was just a couple of months after the grandfather who had helped him get started in the sport, passed away. Kennedy tied for 37th in the 3A state event. shooting 81 to open, but settling down for a 76 on the second day.
He believes he played his best high school golf as a sophomore.
“I was regional champion and had my best state tournament,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy shot 1-under 70 at Lake Louise to win the 3A Midwest regional. Then he shot 79-74 — 153 to tie for 14th in the 3A state event.
He says he slumped a little bit as a junior and didn’t qualify for the state.
“A lot of golf is mental, and I just peaked too early,” Kennedy explained.
Kennedy got his mojo back last June in the N.C. Junior Championships in Raleigh with a couple of match-play wins against highly regarded opponents.
“There were like 180 of the best golfers in the state in that tournament,” said Kennedy, who made the final 16. “Those were guys who were committed to UNC, places like that, and to do as well as I did in a tournament that tough let me know I could compete with the best.”
Martinelli says the best part of Kennedy’s game is his chipping and putting.
“He’s got a lot of skill with his hands,” she said.
Kennedy says the best part of his game is his long game. People expect a guy named “Big Jake” to hit it 300 yards off the tee, and he often delivers.
“I’m a big hitter, but I can also pull off some tough pretty shots,” Kennedy said with a smile.
He decided on Gardner-Webb, not surprisingly, because the 4,000-student school in Boiling Springs, near Shelby, reminded him a lot of West.
Kennedy says G-W coach Tee Burton is “super-cool” and the school has the communications and marketing programs that he wants to study.
“Gardner-Webb just felt right in my heart,” Kennedy said.