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MATT MASIN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Troy senior golfer Joseph Crisostomo tees off during a Freeway League round of golf between Troy and Sonora on April 5 at La Mirada Golf Course.

Crisostomo's steady, dependable play lifts Troy to new heights

STAFF WRITER

Golf, Joseph Crisostomo says, is a game of problems.

But unlike math, where there’s always one answer, every obstacle on the course has infinite solutions.

Balls behind trees, balls in the sand, balls in the rough – ingenuity up his sleeve is as valuable to a golfer as any club in his bag.

For years now, Crisostomo has burnished his creativity. Limitless as his imagination has become, no shot is too far-fetched.

“Fundamentals make a good golfer,” he said. “Practices help, and good coaches help, too. Good golfers pick up fundamentals easier, but creative thinking is what gets you to that next level.”

Troy High’s boys golf team can make Freeway League history this season.

Since the league’s inception in 2004, no team has beaten Sunny Hills High outright for the league championship. The Warriors and Lancers shared the prize last season, but earlier this spring, Troy outshot its rival and pulled ahead in the race.

Crisostomo four years ago was the golfer Troy needed to get there.

Now, Warriors coach Jerry Cowgill said, he’s why it finally is.

“Joseph is always working hard, doing the right thing,” Cowgill said. “He’s respected by the guys because he goes about his business as a leader.”

• • •

Raised by a former Army man, Crisostomo grew up on the straight and narrow.

No lying, no cheating, no stealing.

If you’re doing one, Crisostomo was told, you’re doing them all.

“You have to be a man of your word,” he said.

Crisostomo played a number of sports recreationally as a child, but not until his grandmother bought him his first set of golf clubs did he care enough about one to play it all year.

At 9, Crisostomo joined a local beginners group. Even then, he showed promise.

Not long after an apprenticeship spent learning strategy and fundamentals, Crisostomo entered youth tournaments. He played for fun at first, then eventually found permanent residence on leaderboards.

Crisostomo’s expectations rose as his confidence swelled, and his skills and athleticism put him a class above most newcomers.

He credits his father for much of his early success.

“My dad strengthened me mentally,” he said. “I’d get angry and rebel by hitting golf balls as hard as I could. I learned how inefficient that was. ... I had to focus.”

Raised closer in proximity to Sunny Hills than to Troy, Crisostomo chose to be a Warrior.

He said he’d always wanted to be “the star of the golf team” in high school, but with so much talent already at Sunny Hills, and even more on the way, Troy was where he said he could live his dream.

Cowgill at the time had varsity golfers, but none with the confidence to challenge the elite, and none as experienced as Crisostomo.

“For a long time, I had one, maybe two, decent kids, and (Sunny Hills) had five to six,” said Cowgill, now in his 15th year at Troy. “With Joseph and Robert (Lee), I was instantly impressed. I could tell they were going to be something.”

Crisostomo in 2013 finished fourth behind three Lancers at the Freeway League finals.

After losing two matches to Sunny Hills in 2014 by 21 total strokes, and then losing by nine last year in the teams’ first meeting, Troy in the 2015 regular-season finale handed the Lancers their first-ever league loss: 192-198.

“It looks like we have finally got a rivalry going,” Sunny Hills coach Tim Devaney told OCVarsity after the match.

• • •

Just before Troy beat Sunny Hills for the first time, Crisostomo entertained the idea of golfing in college.

Enrolled in several Advanced Placement classes his first two years at Troy, he said balancing sports and schoolwork was tougher than he thought it’d be.

Nevertheless, he continued excelling in the classroom and on the course, maintaining unweighted grade-point averages in the high threes as an underclassman.

Last time he checked, his GPA was 4.0 this school year.

“We once were at a point where we weren’t really getting kids who were golfers first and students second,” Cowgill said. “Joseph was one of our first.”

Like his father and his uncles – who served in the Air Force – Crisostomo said he always has sought his purpose in life.

Last year, he caught wind of the Air Force Academy’s golf program and soon began sending longtime Falcons coach George Koury his tournament scores, grades and academic accomplishments.

Shortly after watching him golf well last summer at a tournament in Colorado, Koury offered Crisostomo a spot on the team.

Crisostomo verbally committed to the school within a month, becoming Cowgill’s first boys golfer to commit to a four-year university.

“Academically, we’re a successful high school, and that’s why a lot of kids choose to come to Troy,” Cowgill said. “Now we’re trying to build a reputation as an athletically good golf program. That’s happened with our girls basketball team, our girls golf team and now our boys, too.

“I think recently we’ve gotten some people we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Everyone likes a winner.”

When Crisostomo completes his undergraduate degree, he’ll begin his mandatory five-year service.

He plans to major in engineering but said the cybersecurity field also interests him. He has toyed with the idea of being a pilot, too, citing as inspiration the popular Maverick character from “Top Gun.”

Four-plus years out, however, there’s school history to be made now.

Troy last month beat Sunny Hills for the second time in as many matches, and Cowgill believes as well as Crisostomo and Lee play atop his starting lineup, these Warriors are deeper than their predecessors.

That’s bad news for the rest of the Freeway League.

“I want to motivate my teammates,” Crisostomo said, “because golf is a sport that’s so easy to think about negatively. I want to promote confidence.

“Golf is mental, and being on the course as much as I have, you learn the best ways to solve problems.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7702 or bwhitehead@ocregister.com


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