Often, young players are praised for their skills in a sport early on in their lives, but due to various circumstances, their flame can die out as quickly as it started. Not for Southampton’s Christian Oakley.
Oakley made the Southampton varsity golf team as a seventh-grader and was heralded as the future of the program, and he hasn’t disappointed.
After placing third in the Section XI, or Suffolk County, Championships in early November, Oakley guaranteed himself another spot in the state tournament, which will take place June 3 at Cornell University. It will be his third consecutive appearance upstate, something that has only been done twice in Suffolk County. Middle Country’s Mike Miranda, who actually went to states four years in a row (2011-2014), and East Hampton’s Ian Lynch (2011-2013) were the only others accomplish the feat.
Tim Schreck took over as head coach of the varsity golf team at Southampton five years ago, when Oakley was already heading into his second year on varsity as an eighth-grader.
“As soon as he picked up a club and swung it, I knew from the get-go I had quite a golfer,” Schreck said of Oakley. “I think it was his competitiveness that drove him then, even when he was in eighth grade. We had some really good golfers but he felt he should be in the top pair.”
Oakley, now 17, recalls picking up a pair of clubs his father, Mike, got him when he was about five years old. He didn’t really get into the sport full bore until he was about 12 years old, when he and his sister, Caroline, who is now 14, attended a week-long golf camp at Poxabogue Golf Course in Sagaponack. At that point he was hooked and got himself a golf coach, Tom Patri, who is still his personal coach to this day. That’s when he started to see his game take off. A few years later, Oakley made his first appearance at states as a sophomore.
“As a freshman, things started clicking a bit more,” he explained. “My average score fell from a 43 to 37, which was a really big improvement from my first year, and I was emerging as one of the best players on the team.”
Schreck said that Oakley’s rise to becoming one of the best players at Southampton was directly due to his drive and competitiveness.
“I don’t know anyone willing to work as hard as he is,” he said. “He’s like the 110-percent kid in everything he does, whether it’s his school work or golf. He’s the first one at practice; I remember he would have his mom pick him up at school so he could get to the course early before everyone else. He would practice until six with the team, then keep playing until it’s too dark. He’d also try and play after some of our matches.”
Oakley said that along with a growing passion for the sport of golf, a deep competitiveness also drove him to get better. “I think it comes pretty innately,” he said. “My parents have always been hard workers so I think that’s inspired my natural competitiveness.”
Oakley is so competitive that, even a month after the fact, he is still down on himself for not winning counties.
“My initial goal going into it was to win and I didn’t do that,” he said. “I’m still excited, for sure, to be going to states. In the end that was the ultimate goal. But I just wanted to say that I won. That’s a big accomplishment. I had a four-shot lead after the first round and I kind of blew the lead. That shouldn’t have happened.”
Schreck said that Oakley will eventually take a step back and realize all that he’s accomplished in his career.
“Like any sport, a lot has to go right to win,” he said. “Just being a great golfer doesn’t guarantee you a win and that’s what makes golf such a tough sport. Any given day you could lose focus and risk not being number one.
“But what Christian has accomplished is sort of unprecedented,” Schreck continued. “Not too many Long Islanders have reached states three years in a row, and I think that’s a hard thing for people to realize, and I think it’s even harder for Christian to realize.”
Oakley is a year-round golfer. He starts tour play through various junior golf associations in April, which will take him up to the school season in September, which lasts through October and into early November. During the offseason, Oakley practices his golf game intermittently, but is almost always doing some sort of physical activity to keep himself in shape. Last winter he worked out at JT Personal Fitness in Water Mill. This winter, for the first time ever, Oakley is a member of the varsity indoor track team at Southampton, where he’s most interested in the long and triple jumps, and will be using that to give himself, as he described it, “more explosiveness.”
Oakley said he’s going to try and stay away from the game of golf this offseason and not pick his clubs back up until early March. He thinks that he could have suffered from burnout this past season and doesn’t want it to happen again.
“I was playing really well, especially to start the season, but by the end of the year I was losing it mentally,” he said. “Golf is all mental and it is possible that I had done too much throughout the year.”
Oakley’s home club is Southampton Golf Club but he caddies during the summer at the renowned Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Being able to play on the East End’s various golf clubs is what Oakley’s personal coach Patri says is one of the things that makes Oakley such a good golfer.
“There are some really hard golf courses out there for younger golfers like Christian. I call that ‘practicing up,’ where you practice on hard courses, so when you play on easier courses it gives you a huge mental edge,” he explained. “But you also have to attribute [Oakley’s] success to a very supportive family unit. I think that’s an important message, to have that nucleus that really cares about you. Like all teenagers, they get off track sometimes, and having a good family has grown that solid base for him.”
Oakley is nearing decision time on where he would like to continue his education after high school. He has the grades to attend Ivy League schools, and while he is unsure exactly where he’d like to attend, he knows he wants to get the experience of going away to college. He’s interested in NCAA Division I schools such as Boston College, Duke, the University of Virginia, Stanford and a few Ivy League schools.
According to Patri, who was a first team All-American and national champion at Florida Southern in 1981, and a tour pro in Europe and South Africa in the seven years following that, Oakley has the skill set, and possibly more important, the grades, to be a Division I golfer.
“I think ultimately it’s important to realize that not everyone is going to go on to be a pro golfer, so I think the real priority is to find the best school,” he said. “The best thing for [Oakley] to understand is to get the best education, and if golf fits in somewhere, that’s a bonus.
“I think academically Christian is teed up to be in a really good place,” Patri added.
With his high school career coming to an end shortly, Oakley doesn’t look back at all of the accolades he has accrued in his six-year career. In fact, he didn’t speak of any of accomplishments when asked what he’ll look back on and remember the most.
“Definitely playing with my sister,” he said. “This year she was our number two and we just developed our relationship even more now. To me, that’s priceless in the grand scheme of things.”