Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
The steely gaze has softened.
The emotions he sometimes wore on his sleeves have abated.
Dylan Wu has long been a good golfer, far better than most, in fact. Now, he says, he strives to be a better person.
"I'm really competitive," says Wu. "That part of me will never go away. But I want to be relaxed and calm and have a better demeanor on the golf course. I want to be known for being a good person on the golf course and having good etiquette. Golf tests all parts of your mental game and your patience."
Wu is in his senior season at St. Mary's High. His string of successes would make a lion at a watering hole envious. He has a cache of state championships, impressive showings on the national junior circuit and a scholarship to Northwestern flapping out of his back pocket.
With little more than a month of high school left, he has the luxury of appreciating his station. There's time to smell the roses and grassy fairways, engage in cheerful banter with teammates and opponents alike, revel in good shots and shrug off the bad.
Introspection, it seems, is his new undertaking.
His last hurrah has more, well, hurrahs.
Crusaders coach Ryan Allred has had Wu for four years. He remembers the prodigy, driven to succeed, manning a corner of the range and steadfastly working on his game. That youngster has blossomed into a team leader, a mentor.
"I've really seen that," says Allred. "He's matured as a person a lot. You see him laughing and joking with his playing partners more and generally having a better time playing golf. You always want to be serious and focused during the shot, but he's found that between the shots, you can be relaxed and have a good time."
At times, Wu says, he's so easygoing it makes him uneasy. But he gets over it.
And that competitive edge? It's still there.
He showed it in the Heather Farr Classic, an American Junior Golf Association tournament in Mesa, Ariz., two weeks ago. Wu was 5 over par on the front nine but made a 30-foot putt on No. 11 to kick-start a fantastic finish. He birdied six of the last seven holes and tied for 11th in a tough field.
He showed it a day later, after flying home just before midnight on a Sunday and leaving at 5 the next morning for Bend, where he blew away a 16-team field at Tetherow Golf Club. Tetherow, notoriously difficult, was made even more so by rain, wind and cold. Wu shot a 3-under 69 and won by five strokes.
And he showed it last week. After playing a tournament at Centennial Golf Club, he sat long enough for dinner, then was back on the practice range until nightfall encroached.
Not all of Wu's rounds this season have been to his standards — some have climbed to the middle to upper 70s — but he hasn't fretted over them.
"It's my senior year, I like playing," says Wu. "I get to miss school and play golf. I just don't have too many expectations. I've already signed and everything, so I know nothing will happen if I play bad. I don't really think about it."
It wasn't always that way.
When Wu was 12 or 13, his expectations were "too high," he says, and when they weren't met, his emotions bubbled forth.
Certainly, he wasn't the first child — or adult — to take golf seriously. It's a game that routinely impassions and perturbs its players.
It's normal, Wu says, for kids that young not to see the big picture and have difficulty managing their feelings. He's tried to change his persona the past couple years, he says. He's come to appreciate what golf "can do for your life; you've got to embrace it."
Tweaking a golf swing is one thing. Fixing mood swings quite another.
"I think as you grow," Wu says, "you realize that nothing good comes out when you're playing angry golf. Your game just goes downhill. You're also playing a sport that not many people can play, so you're privileged. You're playing golf and it should be fun."
He found during the recruiting process that college coaches are mindful of how prospects behave.
"They definitely take that into account a lot," says Wu. "Every player can hit a good shot in front of the coach, but it's how you react after a bad shot and your recovery, I think that's what they look for. They look for players who can grind out a round even when they're playing bad and can salvage something."
Bottom line, he believes he plays better when he's relaxed, and he's pretty relaxed these days.
Wu's game is generally defined by how well he's driving the ball and putting. When he's hitting the driver straight, he'll find 10 or 11 fairways, he says. His ball striking consistently allows him to hit 13 or 14 greens, he adds.
Enter the putting.
In late January, he finished tied for fifth in the Corey Pavin Invitational in Poway, Calif., despite not putting well. He was 1 over for three days and averaged 34 putts per round.
At the Heather Farr, he averaged 29, and at Tetherow, it was 28.
"That was really a big deal for me," says Wu. "My goal is to be under 30 putts."
When things aren't going well, says Allred, Wu's ability to stay in the round is evident.
"I think he's a better scrambler than he was a year ago, better at getting the ball in the hole," says the coach. "He's not going to have as many blow-up holes that take him out of a tournament. His chipping and decision making are better, and that in turn transfers to lower scores."
Apart from school and golf, Wu spent time as a mentor at VIBES Public Charter School for his senior project.
At first, he thought, the program was a simple gig, and he could "just get it over with." But having a third-grade student as a mentee quickly grew on him. He visited the school more than was required, two or three times a week, and recently took his first culinary arts class with his student.
"You help out the kids and help them focus," says Wu. "A lot of them come from rough backgrounds. You just try to be a friend in their life, make sure they're on track in school and everything."
Wu is on track to advance his career. He will gravitate from junior tournaments to amateur events with college age and older players.
An example is today, when he'll play in a U.S. Open qualifying tournament at Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver, Wash.
Next in line is the high school postseason. St. Mary's will vie for its fourth straight Class 3A/2A/1A state title. If successful, the Crusaders will match the Oregon record, shared by two schools, of four straight championships. Medford High did it from 1979-82, and Taft High followed suit from 1984-87.
It's a foregone conclusion they will take care of business. St. Mary's won the division by 77 strokes last year, setting the all-time state record for margin of victory, and returns everyone from that team: Wu's twin brothers, sophomores Josh and Jeremy, senior Tom Thorndike and junior Brandon Chun.
The team shot a 598 for two days at Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, setting 18- and 36-hole scoring records for small schools.
Dylan Wu captured the individual title, shooting an even-par 144.
The state tournament this year is May 19-20 at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis. It's a course that affords scoring opportunities and one where the Crusaders have historically done well.
Their goals, aside from winning, are to break their own scoring record and to do so with, at worst, an even-par 576. It's a tall order, certainly, but Lake Oswego managed to do so last year with a 575 in the 6A boys tourney in Corvallis.
"I know that we're capable of playing well, especially at Trysting Tree," says Wu. "It's fairly open."
He, of course, will attempt to defend his title. Primary threats are close by, his own teammates, his own family. Josh Wu has beaten his older brother a couple times this spring.
"I've been telling the younger guys to try to give Dylan a run for his money for the state title," says Allred. "He's totally fine with that. I think he likes it."
It's just one more reason the final leg of his prep journey has been an enjoyable one.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com