Then-8th grader Thomas Luger stood in the brisk winter air at Kansas City Country Club. Bundled in layers and a beanie, a golf club was frozen to his hands as he perfected his chipping.
A week earlier, he was sprinting back and forth across a gym, conditioning for basketball season. But now, standing on the freezing range, Luger realized that teeing up ball after ball was better than any type of running drill.
From then on, Luger stopped playing basketball and made golf his identity.
“For whatever reason, that moment in the cold made me think, this is what I want to do — like a lot,” now-senior Luger said. “So I kind’ve stuck to it and said, ‘this is it.’”
Now, four years after deciding to pursue golf seriously, Luger has been named Junior Golf Student Athlete of the Year by the Midwest Section of the PGA. Two weeks ago he opened a letter from the PGA and received the news, along with a congratulatory text from his coach, Andy Fisher. After being nominated by Fisher and filling out an application in August, all of his wins and hours spent after school on the golf course from middle school until now were being recognized.
“I’ve watched him go from being a beginner into someone who is physically capable of shooting great scores and having great finishes,” Fisher said. “Watching Thomas flourish with success in golf has been really fun for me.”
Luger accepted the honor at the awards ceremony on Oct. 23 at Prairie Band Casino & Resort. Every year, the Midwest Section PGA honors a student golfer in the Kansas and Missouri region who has not only has been successful on the golf course, but also in the classroom; his involvement in National Honor Society and three AP classes help him meet this criteria.
With his involvement in National Honor Society and AP classes, Luger meets this criteria.
This isn’t Luger’s first time being awarded for his golf performance. He got second at state his junior year, placed in the top five in an American Junior Golf Association tournament in Lawrence this summer and won the Kenneth Smith Award last year. The Kenneth Smith Award is given to the most outstanding high school golfer in Kansas City, which also factors in academics, leadership and community service.
But Luger’s talent didn’t come naturally to him. Everyday, Luger goes out to the course and hits over 250 golf balls and works out twice a week. Sometimes Luger’s practice time is split, focusing about 60-70 percent of practice time on short game, chipping and putting, and then the rest of the time practicing his drive on the range.
Sometimes this involves sacrifice, like missing the J-Cole concert because he had a tournament the next day. Other times it involves enduring the frigid February weather for the sake of getting in a few more practice swings to give him an edge over his competitors.
“It’s easy to go play at one o’clock on a Saturday when it’s 75 degrees,” Luger said. “But it’s harder when it’s five o’clock, 48 degrees outside and it’s raining. Being there when no one else is there, that’s my pillar of hard work.”
The weather is a trivial factor in Luger’s training and it hasn’t held him back from triumph in his golf career — he remembers winning regionals in torrential rain his sophomore year.
Besides putting in those extra hours of driving, putting, and chipping every day, another crucial component to his success is how young he started. Luger has had his hands on a golf club since he was 3 years old, when his father would take him out on a cart and play a few holes. Although he wasn’t Tiger Woods, he would run around the course and try to hit the ball every now and then.
In seventh grade, he began playing competitively and is now a part of the AJGA, Kansas City Junior Tour and Kansas Golf Association. Through these organizations, Luger competes in tournaments across the country—everywhere from Santa Barbara to Tampa. The dedication put into these tournaments and wins that came from them are what led Fisher to nominate him for the award.
“I will usually see Thomas [at Kansas City Country Club] every day I am here,” Fisher said. “It’s cool to see that amount of enthusiasm from young person in anything. You very rarely have someone that committed to getting better. He never seems to tire of it.”
Along with national and local associations, Luger also plays on the East golf team and has been on varsity since his freshman year. Luger has noticed that because of the supportive nature of the team, he prefers East golf to playing individually.
“[My teammates] are counting on me,” Luger said. “I need to play well for them. And maybe that’s something I’ve struggled with in summer golf because there’s no one else in your corner. I can always shake off a bad shot because I know the other guys are right behind me.”
Luger’s teammates agree with the decision made by the Midwest PGA, saying that he not only brings an immense level of talent to the team, but also leadership.
“Thomas works harder than anyone you will ever come by,” senior varsity golfer Max Maday said. “He is always hitting balls no matter the weather — he sometimes even plays in the snow.”