Their first-ever high school golf tournament can be a scary experience for most incoming freshmen.
The pressure that comes with representing one’s school — in front of the judgmental eyes of players and coaches of opposing teams — can overwhelm kids that haven’t even set foot in a high school classroom.
Imagine the pressure a freshman would feel playing in his team’s No. 1 slot in such a tournament, and maybe you can relate a little better to Nathan Chuwait.
The diminutive 14 year old from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology found himself in that spot this past week during the Atomic Invitational at Twin Lakes Golf Course. There Nathan went up against bigger, stronger players who could send their drives farther down the fairway. Those older golfers might not have thought much of Nathan when they first got a look at his size, but they probably looked at him a bit differently after he walked away with the trophy.
Nathan dusted off the 104-man field with impressive consistency — finishing the two-day tournament with scores of 70 and 71. Although it wasn’t his first tournament triumph, Nathan was particularly proud of the win because he was able to do it for his new school.
Having played golf since age 3, he finds the team approach refreshing after years of competing on his own.
“It’s more team-involved,” he said. “You really want to do it for the team, not just for yourself. So it’s a lot of fun.”
Nathan will join forces at TJ this season with Julie Luo, who is no stranger to freshman-year success. Julie captured the Liberty District tournament title last year as a freshman, and went on to medal at the Northern Region tournament. That left her with the choice of playing in either the girls or boys division at the state tournament.
For someone as ambitious as Julie, the choice wasn’t difficult.
“I like playing with the boys better,” she said. “It’s a lot more competitive I think.”
Talent and moxie aren’t the only things Nathan and Julie bring to the TJ golf team this year. They also carry a friendship that has endured since they began attending the same elementary school. Both have longstanding obsessions with golf, but their newfound enthusiasm for playing for the team might hold even greater sway these days.
“They just have a real positive energy, a real positive vibration that I think is helping the whole squad,” coach John Myers said.
Both Julie and Nathan come to TJ with significant accomplishments under their belts.
Julie was the Girls’ Overall Champion at the 2012 Pepsi Titan Little People’s Golf Championship in Quincy, Ill., and Nathan claimed the 2012 Scott Robertson Memorial Tournament Boys’ 13-14 division in Roanoke.
Julie also won the 42nd Virginia State Golf Association Junior Girls’ Championship last year, while Nathan finished second in the 2010 U.S. Kids Golf Seaview Open in New Jersey.
Julie once shot a 68 at Greenbrier; Nathan has carded a 66 at Pinehurst.
Although the pair goes their separate ways playing in various American Junior Golf Association tournaments every summer, they always come back to the same place. Both practice at the 1757 Golf Club near WAshington-Dulles International Airport, and they share the same golf instructor.
Stephen Moskal, who works at TopGolf in Alexandria, has been working with Nathan for about 10 years. He also has been coaching Julie since 2006. Moskal calls Nathan one of the most steady young players he’s ever coached, and says Julie possesses as much talent as Jenny Suh — a current LPGA Tour player who won the Virginia AAA Boys Golf Championship playing for Chantilly in 2002 — did at that age.
“They’ve got good technique and are very, very consistent,” Moskal said. “Whereas most juniors can be quite erratic, those two are very consistent. Julie is very strong mentally, and Nathan is as well, but sometimes girls have to overcome more than the boys do. Nathan’s swing was always very natural. He had the natural movement of the swing even at four or five years old.”
Both players now compete for a high school with a demanding academic reputation, which poses a challenge for finding a balance between studies and sports. Julie managed to get straight A’s last year dealing with that burden, and Nathan plans on doing the same.
“I know it’s definitely going to be a big workload and a big adjustment from middle school to not just a normal high school but to Thomas Jefferson,” Nathan said. “But my parents have always told me that I need to manage my time, so that’s definitely what I plan on doing.”
The addition of Nathan to the squad this year has transformed TJ into a legitimate contender for the Liberty District team title, posing a new threat to traditional powers Langley, Madison and Fairfax. That’s unfamiliar territory to Myers, who has not seen his team advance past the district tournament during his five years at the helm.
The Colonials recorded a second-place finish Tuesday at the Glory Days Sports Charger Challenge at Pleasant Valley Golf Club, where TJ finished ahead of 22 other teams — including Chantilly, Deep Run, Madison, Fairfax and Oakton. Julie fired the lowest girls score of the day with a 72, and Nathan came away with a third-place 73 to bring the team total to 320.
Observers in awe of those results might need to savor that surprise while it lasts. As the next few years go by, they’ll likely become all too accustomed to them.