Southeastern Kansas’ best golfer held his own against the top high schoolers in the nation in June.
Drayton Cleaver, SEK’s No. 1 golfer, competed in the NHSGA High School Golf National Invitational at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina June 23-25. Cleaver finished 34th out of 330-plus golfers from around the United States.
Cleaver said he soaked in the experience.
“It was definitely one of the coolest experiences of my life. I’m so happy to have that opportunity and I’m hoping to get back there next year,” Cleaver said. “It’s definitely something that I’ll be looking forward to and working towards next year.”
But this wasn’t even on Cleaver’s radar until he received the invite the day after State; the organization invites all of the top high school golfers in the nation. The organization -- which aims to grow and develop high school golfers across the nation -- invited Cleaver based on his high finish in State golf: Cleaver placed third at the Class 4A Boys Golf State Championships at the Mariah Hills Golf Course in Dodge City in late May.
Specifically, Chanute High head golf coach Bill Woodard was contacted by the NHSGA because of the stellar results, and the next thing you know, Cleaver, his family, and Woodard boarded a plane to Raleigh, North Carolina -- about an hour and change to Pinehurst driving-wise.
Chanute’s group nestled in a house on a resort on June 19. Then, Cleaver throughout the weekend played practice rounds on two of the three tournament golf courses.
“It was a lot of practice. I wasn’t feeling great going into the week, but I ended up being able to put together three really good tournament rounds through a lot of preparation,” Cleaver mentioned. “...I really had to map out the courses because they’re a lot more difficult than what we are used to here with a lot more challenges than the common courses around here in Kansas.”
Playing in a 54-hole tournament over three days, Cleaver on many occasions, ran into a situation in which there was an out-of-bounds area right out of the fairway, essentially on every hole. Once playing away from the fairway, Cleaver oftentimes found himself in trouble. The senior golfer, however, escaped out of danger and, for the most part, kept the ball in play off the tee.
There are a few lasting impressions based on the way Cleaver played amongst the best of the best.
“I think a lot of it is just keeping the ball in play. I think that’s super important, especially as you get on to challenging courses, hitting fairways, and hitting greens,” Cleaver continued. “Making pars on those courses is way better than making a par on a course down here. I think that’s the big thing is just being satisfied with par.”
Woodard has observed Cleaver’s maturation process from the best seat in the house, but that keen observation didn’t waver just because the tournament happened to be the Pro Bowl of high school golfers.
“...His consistency with the driver is key to providing more birdie opportunities,” Woodard said. “He is capable of playing a variety of golf shots but choosing the best one for a given situation would be another discussion we’ll have in the future. As always, in golf, the putter does the majority of the scoring. He can get better there.”
Developing and qualifying in a bunch of summer competitions, on the horizon for Cleaver is the Kansas Amateur Championship in Wichita on Tuesday and Wednesday. Following that up will be a college showcase at Ferris State University.
Not being able to find a consistent resource nationally, the NHSGA (highschoolgolf.org), after being updated on the high school golf market, developed to bring together high school golfers from around the nation, “providing national high school golf rankings, showcasing tournament results, playing opportunities and providing access to unbiased information on college recruiting coaching and equipment discounts.”