Someday Greg Gildea will be able to reminisce about the 2013 summer that changed his life.
If he wants, he could even write a memoir: “How I earned an NCAA Division I golf scholarship in three weeks.”
Gildea, a recent Bellarmine Prep graduate, returns to the scene Tuesday where his life-changing sequence began — the Ryan Moore Junior Championship at RMG Club at Oakbrook in Lakewood, sponsored by the American Junior Golf Association.
His second-place finish behind Seattle’s Frank Garber sparked a hot streak that vaulted him into the recruiting spotlight. The next week, he won the prestigious San Diego Junior Masters, and the following week, he placed 14th at the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships.
Eventually, Gildea accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Washington, and signed with the Huskies this past November.
“A couple nights ago, I reflected on all of that, looking at photos from last summer,” Gildea said. “And I realized, I am not playing for a scholarship anymore. I am playing for myself. I will be playing college golf, and I do not want to lose sight of that.”
Gildea’s journey actually started in December of 2012. He was playing a junior tournament in Las Vegas, where he bumped into Mike Duhamel, a former professional hockey player who had become a golf instructor.
Impressed with Gildea’s ball-striking ability, Duhamel offered the teenager a free two-hour lesson at the Callaway Golf Center.
A few weeks later, Gildea and his family invited Duhamel to come up and play a practice round with Gildea at RMG Club at Oakbrook. The two of them discussed what work needed to be done in order to get the attention of colleges, which included changes to his swing.
Taking a “leap of faith,” Gildea hired Duhamel as his full-time swing instructor.
“He knew it was a really important year for him,” Bellarmine Prep boys golf coach Steve George said. “He felt the pressure a little bit of not being where he though he should be golf-wise. He was working really hard at it, but he was getting frustrated not seeing the result.”
On his home course, Gildea made a charge in the final round at last year’s inaugural Ryan Moore Junior Championship, closing with a 1-under-69 to finish one stroke back of Garber, widely considered the state’s top junior golfer.
“I watched him last year at that event, and I was like, ‘You know what, he is pretty good,’ ” UW coach Matt Thurmond said. “But he did not have a lot of great results up to that point.”
If Gildea showed well in that tournament, he was off the charts the next week. He shots rounds of 68, 68 and 69 at Sycuan Resort’s Willow Glen Golf Course to cruise to a five-shot victory over a quality national and international field at the San Diego Junior Masters.
“After that, I knew I was on the (recruiting) radar,” Gildea said.
The scholarship offers started coming in after his 14th-place finish at the Callaway Junior Worlds at Torrey Pines South Course. Also showing serious interest, along with the Huskies, were Washington State, Oregon State, San Diego and Seattle University. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Idaho and San Jose State also flooded him with phone calls and emails.
“Greg’s (hot streak) was not something we really expected,” Thurmond said. “But we fell in love it quickly.”
Gildea was the final signee of the Huskies’ four-man recruiting class for 2013-14, along with Garber, Sammamish’s Spencer Weiss and Canadian Jordan Lu.
“In match-play format, and on some of the bigger courses we play, we needed a guy or two who can pound it out there and dominate a course,” Thurmond said. “Greg can do that.”
To this day, the whirlwind month of stellar play still seems a bit surreal to Gildea. It also gave him confirmation that when he plays well, he can play with anybody.
“In three weeks,” Gildea said, “my life changed.”