COLUMBIA — Two summers ago Sam Harrison had a choice.
He had to decide what sport he wanted to compete in his freshman year of high school. With the help of his family, he narrowed the choice to golf, tennis or swimming. After playing golf for the first time in Hawaii while on vacation, he made his decision to focus on the sport.
The Rock Bridge boys golf team is in fourth place after the first round of the Class 4 state championship Monday at the Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield.
The Bruins scored 316 and are only eight strokes behind the leader, Marquette. Rock Bridge sophomore Matt Echelmeier shot a 72 and is in a two-way tie for third, and sophomore Jack Knoesel shot a 73 putting him in three-way tie for fifth.
Sam Harrison is in a four-way for 78th at 86.
The championship's second and final round is set for Tuesday.
Now, after playing his freshman season on Rock Bridge's underclass team, Harrison is now playing for a state championship with the Bruins' varsity team.
When Harrison returned home from Hawaii, he signed up for lessons with Jake Poe, the owner of Perche Creek Golf Club in Columbia. Under the instruction of Poe and Rock Bridge coach Doug Daniels, and combined with countless hours of practice, Harrison's game has improved dramatically.
Fellow sophomore Matt Echelmeier said Harrison is easily the most improved player on the team.
"Just to think that less than two years ago, he was shooting in the hundreds," Echelmeier said.
In his first competitive junior tournament before the Rock Bridge season, it took Harrison 138 strokes to finish 18 holes. For most of his freshman season, Harrison struggled to keep his scores out of the triple digits.
Harrison devoted last summer to improving his golf game in all aspects mental and mechanical. The extra time and effort, along with the struggling play of other varsity golfers, opened the door for Harrison to move up to varsity early in the season.
The second tournament of the year, the Columbia Classic, turned out to be a great opportunity for Harrison to prove to Daniels just how far he had come since last season. Harrison finished the 14-team tournament tied for seventh among all golfers with a score of 78.
"I wasn't shocked," Harrison said. "I felt like I deserved to be on varsity the way I was playing."
Two weeks after the promotion, Harrison finished second overall at the Helias Invitational. Harrison's score of 74 was three strokes behind Jack Knoesel, his teammate and the individual winner of the tournament.
Harrison's consistent play earned him a spot on varsity for the rest of the season.
"Sam is the kind of kid who doesn't mind going out on the course on his own to just work on his game until he gets better," Daniels said. "If you work hard and play often, you can pass guys up."
Harrison, who doesn't care for team sports, enjoys the individual aspect of golf. He said golf allows him to hold himself accountable for his own performance and to not worry about his opponents' play.
Harrison said the biggest difference between last season and this season is his ability to manage the mental aspect of golf. Daniels and his teammates said Harrison has become a much more patient and confident player.
"Last year, it was a huge accomplishment for him to even make the team," Echelmeier said. "This year he's playing for state and having the time of his life."
With Echelmeier and Knoesel, Harrison and the rest of the Bruins hope to capture their second Class 4 state championship in three years Tuesday at Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield.