COLUMBIA — Dangling off the sides of Juwan Mahaney's Hickman golf bag are two Missouri Tiger towels.
One towel is white. The other is one black. Both are stained with grass and dirt marks. The towels not only clean his clubs but serve as a symbol for the goal the junior has set for himself. He wants to golf for Missouri and realizes this summer offers an opportunity to help make that dream come true.
Mahaney began golfing when he was around 8 or 9 years old. After a few years of golf and before beginning high school, he traded in his clubs for a basketball.
"I thought golf was kind of a pansy sport," Mahaney said.
After breaking his right ankle his freshmen season, Mahaney's basketball career was over. A five-inch steel plate held in place with five screws made him reconsider the sport of golf.
"I can't really run and do athletics like I used to be able to," Mahaney said. "My ankle is only going to be about 80 percent (healthy) for the rest of my life."
Golf is an outlet for Mahaney to express his competitive nature in a less physically demanding way. He has taken to the sport and hopes to make it a career. He has a long way to go but hopes his golf game will help get him to MU in the fall of 2015.
Mahaney's junior season of high school golf is over. His season ended at the Class 4, Sectional 3 Tournament two weeks ago, the same tournament his golf season ended in his sophomore year. Not qualifying for the state tournament is problematic for Mahaney. The tournament offers the best chance for him to get noticed by college coaches. If he can't qualify for state next year, he will have to readjust his goals.
Hickman coach Clark Swisher is optimistic Mahaney can play at the next level if he takes this summer seriously. Swisher said he thinks Mahaney has the talent and determination to get there, but there are some obstacles to overcome.
"A lot of kids make tremendous strides from their junior to senior year because they know how close they are to being really good," Swisher said. "Anyone with good potential always has a chance, especially long hitters (like Mahaney)."
Swisher said with some professional instruction and upgraded equipment, Mahaney's strength and natural abilities can take his game to the next level.
Mahaney will spend the summer working and golfing at Old Hawthorne Golf Course, which is the Missouri men's golf team's home course. Mahaney is in his second year as a part-time groundskeeper there, and this year he will play in Old Hawthorne's accelerated junior tour. Being around Missouri golfers and other quality players motivate Mahaney to take his job and golf game seriously.
"I'm hoping this year, since they saw how hard I worked on the tee boxes and surrounding grass, they'll let me mow the greens" Mahaney said. "It sounds kind of weird, but cutting grass at a golf course is really fun."
Carving up patterns on the course isn't the only enjoyable part of the job. Mahaney tries to talk with and gain advice from the golfers who use the course regularly.
"Everybody talks to everybody up there at Old Hawthorne," Mahaney said. "I just try and soak it in. Any kind of knowledge or tips are helpful in golf."
Mahaney hopes being around golf all summer will help him make the jump from a good high school golfer to a potential college recruit.
Mahaney's teammate and fellow junior, Austin Culbertson, said that Mahaney has already improved so much from his sophomore season, it wouldn't be shocking to see him golfing for the Tigers one day.
"He's improved at least 10 strokes from last season," Culbertson said. "He's a really dedicated golfer."
The improvement made him the No. 1 golfer for Hickman this season, but it will not get him to the collegiate level. Mahaney knows he has to be in the high 60s and low 70s on a consistent basis if he's going to have a chance to be recruited.
While other high school golfers enjoy their offseason and summer, Mahaney will be out on the course as much as the management at Old Hawthorne will allow him to be. He said he will do whatever it takes to attend MU, whether it be for golf or academics. Even the slight chance Mahaney can play golf in college is enough for him to dedicate this summer to chasing his dreams.
"It's a hometown hero kind of thing," Mahaney said. "It would be cool to play for the college that I've been rooting for my whole life."