Area’s Best Golfer?
It Looks Like Luke Long Can Claim That Title
HARRISONBURG — Luke Long never made the jump from Little League to Junior League. He discovered that baseball wasn’t really his thing, anyway.
So he jumped into a different sport, one where the results have been much more rewarding. Long – a member of the dominant Bridgewater Little League and Junior League teams of the early 2000s – traded in his glove and bat for a bag of golf clubs when he got to Turner Ashby High School and hasn’t looked back.
“I liked the fact that [golf] was an individual sport and you didn’t have to rely on anybody else,” Long said recently. “If you made a mistake, it was on you. It wasn’t a team effort. I could go out by myself; I didn’t have to have eight other people to play a game. I could go out and practice and do what I needed to do to get better.”
As the defending Valley Open and Lakeview Amateur champion — he won the latter title late last month — Long can now make a strong case for being the best golfer in the central Shenandoah Valley, at least among those who play in local tournaments.
“I’ve always considered myself to be one of the better ones,” said the 25-year-old Long, who works as a cable technician and lives in Luray with his girlfriend, Tara. “I think in the past year, year and a half, two years, I’ve finally come into my own and figured stuff out.”
Other prominent golfers in the central Shenandoah Valley – led by Andrew Bartley of Staunton and Spotswood High School and James Madison graduate Tim Driver – have not had accomplishments in the last year equivalent to Long’s.
Lakeview Golf Club pro Mike Gooden said Long has done more than enough to earn the best local golfer title.
“With his success last year in the Valley Open and then this year in the Amateur [he’s proved it],” said Gooden, the pro at Long’s home course. “I judge tournaments in the highest regard of performance and expectations, and absolutely he’s proved it to me.”
Heritage Oaks golf pro David Johns didn’t go that far – declining to name a clear No. 1 local golfer – but he said Long certainly is among the best.
Long said he started golfing when he was a freshman at TA, finally giving the sport he watched on TV with his father, Barry, a try. His youth baseball career – he was a third baseman/utility player for Bridgewater – was almost like a full-time job.
“From the time I was 9 to 14 when we went to the World Series, every summer that’s all we did,” Long said of his youth baseball career. “One weekend we’re in Fredericksburg, next weekend we’d be in Richmond, one weekend we’d be in Salem, Virginia Beach. We traveled all over the state for it. It was just getting old.”
While some of his teammates were huge – he said his mother has a picture of him standing next to hulking Bridgewater players – Long wasn’t the most imposing player on the field, measuring just 5-foot-4 as a kid.
His then-small stature hurt him when he had to move up to Junior League fields.
“We made the jump to the bigger field and I was small,” said Long, who now stands about 6 feet. “I didn’t grow until after high school and I was never the fastest kid, and short and slow doesn’t get you very far in baseball.”
So he turned to golf, a sport designed for all shapes and sizes. He wasn’t a superstar for the Knights during his four years, taking a back seat to TA’s No. 1 player, junior Kris Elyard, as a senior. It wasn’t until he was 19 or 20 years old, Long said, that his game started to round into form.
With a body type that now more resembles John Daly than Tiger Woods, Long is proof that the results are what matter.
“I’ve learned to play with it,” Long said of his weight. “Of course, if I was smaller, it would be easier. I was always short and pudgy [growing up]. There’s pretty much no spot on the baseball field for you when you’re short, slow and pudgy. My body type is more suited for golf.”
He knew golf was his game, but it took some time for Long to succeed. His ultra-aggressive, free-swinging style, he said, would get him in and out of trouble. He’d always shoot the shot he shouldn’t, he said, meaning his game had peaks and valleys.
Gooden said Long never struggled to drive the ball. Only recently has his short game caught up.
“It was kind of frustrating because I knew I had all the parts; I just couldn’t put them together at the right time,” Long said. “That’s kind of what’s happened now.
“I’ve figured out how to putt. Honestly that’s always what it’s been for me.”
Long had just 24 putts in 18 holes on June 29 during the first round of the Lakeview Amateur. His putting was also a big factor in his course-record 62 at Heritage Oaks during last year’s Valley Open.
As for how good Long actually is, the consensus is that the best players go on and compete at tournaments beyond the Shenandoah Valley. Long said he has tried to qualify for the Virginia amateur tournament several times but has never made the cut.
Massanutten Resort director of golf Brett Mowbray, who oversees both the Woodstone Meadows and Mountain Greens courses, said the best measure of local golfers is how they fare against outside competition.
He compared it to minor league baseball.
“There’s people around here that per se are good in the Valley League. Then you go to some of these minor league games and they’re just a run-of-the-mill person,” said Mowbray, a 1987 Spotswood graduate who has been at Massanutten since 1997. “They’re great golfers but … when you can take it on the road, it speaks volumes.”
Does Long plan on taking his game to the next level?
“I’d love to try to Monday qualify for a, like, Web.com tour or a smaller tour just to see where I’m at,” said Long. “Yeah, local golfers are really good, but it’s a completely different world when you go to the mini tours.
“I’ve always said I wanted to. I’ve never put myself in that situation to try. It’s also not an inexpensive sport. It’s not something [where you] pay $100 like [the Lakeview Amateur] and play in.”