By Devin Golden
Chase Jones’ grade-point average is similar to the one he had in high school, but he believes the life of a collegiate athlete is much tougher.
And after a year with Darton State College’s men’s golf team, the Murray County graduate has the first-hand experience to back up that belief, as well as an award to show his success.
He earned a $4,000 grant for the upcoming school year after having one of the highest GPAs in the classroom and one of the best scoring averages for any Cavaliers golf freshman. A 3.4 GPA and a scoring average of around 75.6 earned him the Richie Day Scholarship. The grant was started by family in memory of Day, who played for the Cavs in the early 1990s.
Darton State coach Bill Jones said the parameters for the scholarship, now in its fifth year and covering full tuition and fees for the recipient, include dedication to the game, a strong GPA and community involvement.
“Chase came in and did everything we ask of him both on the course and off. I believe he had the second highest GPA this year of all our upcoming sophomores,” the coach said. “Really it’s more the dedication and hard work. Chase came to us as not a really highly recruited player.
“He has been pretty successful in other sports before coming here, but he has really been dedicated to the game. Really his dedication to the game and doing the right things and everything that’s required in the scholarship.”
Still, the golfer feels juggling schoolwork and athletics is tougher now in Albany than when he was a three-sport athlete at Murray County, where he also played basketball and baseball for the Indians.
“It’s definitely a big change,” he said. “It’s definitely harder to play a sport in college. You know, I played three sports in high school, and it was easier to play that many in high school and do the work than play one sport in college and keep up with the work.”
But the business major learned how to find time for the books while staying active on the course. In college, both are more competitive playing fields, he said.
“We have study hall each night, so you have to give an hour to studying each night. If you don’t do that and keep your grades up, then it’s tough,” he said. “In high school you have a lot of players, but in college it’s the top percentage of high school players who move on to play in college. So you’re definitely playing against what would be the best players in high school.
“When you move to a college you’re not as noticed as you were in high school, so it’s a little bit of a change.”
He shot 3-over-par 219 and finished second individually as the Cavs won the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 17 championship this spring at Stonebridge Golf and Country Club in Albany. Darton State then finished fifth at the NJCAA Division I national championship in Newton, Kan.
But his academic success might have been just as impressive to Bill Jones.
“I think Chase had some good support around him,” the coach said. “I think we had some good students this year and in the past we’ve had some questionable students.”
After his sophomore year finishes, Chase will move on and finish his undergraduate education elsewhere.
“I’m still debating on where to go,” he said. “Definitely (Kennesaw State) would be one of the top places. I’d definitely love to go there and play.”
Chase, 19, didn’t start playing golf at a competitive level until his sophomore year of high school. He played recreationally with friends and family but never in tournaments or on teams. Yet, he can drive the ball around 300 yards and helped lead the Indians to the GHSA Class 3A state tournament in 2011. He also was good enough to qualify for the Georgia Amateur Championship, scheduled for July 12-15 in Roswell.
A couple weeks ago, he earned a spot in the Georgia State Golf Association event with a 2-under-par 70 at a qualifier in Cartersville, his strongest outing in a tournament setting.
His goal for the state amateur? Be golfing on the third day.
“They have a cut, so my goal for the first two days is to make the cut and see what position I’m in after the first two days,” he said, “and play it by ear.”
One of the things he loves about golf and what attracted him to the sport above his other athletic ventures was the “control” he has.
“So much of it is mental, and I like a sport where I can control what is going on,” he said. “I love team sports and when I played basketball I loved it, but with golf you’re controlling what happens.”
But he didn’t have control of his nerves around a year ago as he was preparing to step foot onto Darton State’s campus full time.
“Especially since I was four hours away from home. It was a big change,” he said.
Now he is used to it — and happy he endured the tough beginning while achieving academic and athletic recognition at the school. Come August, he gets to sit back and watch the new crop of freshman come in and try to learn the ropes.
“I’m sure they’re feeling the same jitters I did when I got there,” he said.