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El Modena freshman Zarate already a standout
The first hole at Santa Ana’s River View Golf Course is a straight, 300-yard par 4. Trees run along the left side of the fairway. The course’s driving range, along the right.
Two sand traps – one, 60 yards from the green; the other, 30 yards – exist solely to infuriate.
Most golfers require two, sometimes three, shots to reach the green. El Modena freshman Angel Zarate often takes just one.
“I enjoy all of golf’s challenges,” he said.
Zarate is a young golfer, but he isn’t a new one. His coach, Charmaine Summers, believes he will become one of Orange County’s best varsity golfers three years down the road.
The way Zarate plays now, though, she can argue he’s in that class already.
“His focus, his drive, he can hit it 300 yards straight,” said Summers, the club pro at River View and El Modena’s fourth-year coach. “That’s what happens when you start young. Angel has no fear. Golf is second nature to him. ... He has that love for the game.”
Summers often tells the same story when asked about her treasured freshman.
Earlier this spring, on the first hole of his first varsity match, Zarate stood in the tee box at Tustin Ranch Golf Club, driver in his hand, staring 350-plus yards down the fairway.
“He turns to me,” Summers begins, “and says, ‘Coach, I’m nervous.’ It was so cute, oh my gosh. It was adorable.”
Summers – whom former longtime El Modena’s athletic director Don Mott last week called “the best coach we’ve ever had” – has been mentoring Zarate for some time now through the Orange County Golf Academy program she helps run at River View. She said between private lessons and summer sessions, Zarate rarely leaves the course, regularly staying through the twilight to hone his craft.
Whatever “it” is, Summers said, Zarate has it in spades.
“Angel has a good family background, good dynamics of support,” she said. “Few families are as committed to the sport as they are. It’s not just something they do. They love it, and it shows.”
When Zarate began golfing four years ago, he couldn’t hit the ball straight to save his life.
He played soccer as a toddler, but said he didn’t like it. He began golfing only because a cousin made Saddleback High School’s varsity team and it seemed like fun. Zarate first played Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Golf Course with his father. He called that first round “intimidating,” remembering that he played “really bad.”
Still, the calm of the environment piqued his interest. Eighteen holes left him wanting more.
“I liked that I could clear my mind,” said Zarate, the oldest of four children. “You have to learn how to do that. You also have to learn how to bounce back when you mess up on a hole. You have to get to that next hole.”
For a year and a half, Zarate’s father took him to local courses. He also created a chipping and putting area in his back yard. Golf became a year-round endeavor, as he settled into his game.
Zarate joined Summers’ academy last year, a burgeoning talent in need of some professional coaching. His ball straightened out over time, and his drives increased in length. His confidence soared.
Summers said there was no question he would begin his freshman season on varsity.
“Everyone accepted him immediately,” said Summers, who said though she has a young team this year, it is exceeding expectations. “Anybody that has that kind of game is accepted. El Modena was a better team because of Angel.”
Zarate already has goals, chief among which to receive a golf scholarship to UCLA or USC. (His cousin is a Bruin, and Zarate often wears a UCLA cap when golfing.)
After that, he said, he’ll turn pro. There remains three years worth of work to be done in high school, of course. But a kid can dream.
“I never get bored,” he said. “I’m always playing, always learning new things. Golf is an every day type of deal.”
Zarate is the freshman archetype – braces, hints of facial hair, soft-spoken. But he can out-drive upperclassmen, and his irons are pure, even for a ninth grader. He likes long courses and enjoys the challenge of golfing in all conditions, though rain is worse than wind, he said.
He’s crafty, too, meaning no shot is too difficult. In golf, escaping troublesome situations is a skill – one he’s already spent hours practicing.
Though he said his putting is an ongoing area of emphasis, Zarate is nails around the cup. And when he becomes better at reading greens, he’ll easily lop two, maybe three shots per round off his score.
“He’s a normal kid,” said Summers, who later noted that Zarate also plays violin and sings. “He’ll have some blow-up holes, where you see it getting to him. But he can recover. That’s what an athlete does.”
Summers is encouraging Zarate to play monthly in junior tournaments sanctioned by the PGA Tour. She said that’s his “ticket to improve,” adding that the tournament format is much better than its high school equivalent. The more he plays, Summers believes, the better.
“It’s about seeing everything you can on a golf course,” Zarate said.
Zarate’s two younger brothers and younger sister are following in his footsteps. They began golfing at an earlier age, and under Summers, they already are learning the sport at a professional level. Zarate also does his part in bringing his siblings along, lending them advice on developing strengths they don’t yet have.
Summers sees Zarate’s willingness to teach, while still learning himself, as a sign of things to come.
“He’s being an advocate of wanting to play as well as you can,” she said. “Eventually, he’ll be helping other kids too.”
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