Encinitas 12-year-old is playing beyond his years


The greatest athletes of all-time, guys like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, always come back from each offseason with one aspect of their game greatly improved.

At 12 years old, Encinitas golfer Luke Potter isn’t in those guys’ class yet, but he has followed that plan and seen it pay off big time this summer.

Thanks to an improved short game and better work with his putter, Potter has exploded onto the San Diego Junior Golf Association (SDJGA) scene for the past few months culminating in his age group victory at the IMG Academy Junior World Championships at the Sycuan Resort Oak Glen golf course July 12-15.

“Last season, he won about four tournaments (between Future Champions Tour and SDJGA) and this season he’s played in 14 and won 11 of them,” said Luke’s dad P.J. Potter.

“He’s always hit the ball pretty straight, was always good with his irons, but the big improvement has been his short game and putting. He’s taken that really serious from the end of last season, he’s put in a lot of extra time and practice on the short game and it’s helped him a lot.”

Though he’s certainly been on fire this summer, it’s not like Luke Potter is new to the youth golf circuit.

After watching The Golf Channel and going to the range with his dad from a very earlier age — P.J. Potter used to be “heavy” into playing golf and held his own in club championship tournaments — Luke was drawn to the game. He started taking lessons from Greg Casagranda at The Hodges Golf Learning Center when he was 4 and practices year round at La Costa Country Club, which the Potters consider their home course since moving to Encinitas in 2009.

Already serious about the game for a couple of years, Luke started playing tournaments in 2012 when he was just 8 years old. Most of his biggest events are through the SDJGA, and that year he finished in the top 11 at all six tournaments he played on that tour, including taking second in his age group at the 2012 Craig Stadler youth event at Oaks North Golf Club.

Luke was in the top five four times in 2013, despite playing as a 9-year-old in the 9-10 age division.

As a 10-year-old in 2014, Luke posted his first two SDJGA wins — taking first in the Chris Riley junior tournament at the St. Mark Golf Club Executive Course and the Craig Stadler junior tourney at Loma Santa Fe’s Executive Golf Course — and was second on two other occasions.

Last year, as an 11-year-old playing in the 11-12 age division, Luke was in the top five another five times, including a victory in the Paul Benoit Memorial tournament at Twin Oaks Golf Course.

“I like the competition of golf best,” Luke said when asked about his success. “I work hard because I like winning and getting trophies.

“I just want to keep playing through college and see where it goes from there.”

Since spending the offseason working on his short game — when he wasn’t playing rec soccer that is — Luke has been shredding courses in 2016. He is leading the SDJGA points race, as he has five wins and hasn’t finished lower than second in seven tour events.

Most recently, Luke opened the Junior Worlds tournament with a 6-under 66 in the first round, then shot 73s on each of the next two days and held on through a three-way playoff to capture the championship. The moment was not lost on the youngster:

“My favorite tourney win (ever) was Junior Worlds this year. I have won a lot of tournaments but never the big one. There was 140 kids in my age group from all over the world so it was fun to win that one,” said Luke, who added that his favorite pro golfers are “Jordan Spieth because he is clutch, Ben Hogan because he worked really hard to get better and Byron Nelson because we have the same birthday.”

In addition to the local golf standout, P.J. Potter, a Western Region Manager at Vector Marketing working with Cutco, and his wife Susan, “the house manager” who also volunteers at Santa Fe Christian Schools have two other children. Mary, 10, plays tennis and Noah, 7, plays a little bit of everything including soccer, football and basketball.

Dad says Noah will join he and Luke on the links sometimes, “but he’s more there for the snacks and driving around in the cart.”

Last spring break, the family took a trip to Santa Cruz, where P.J. took Luke to play Pasatiempo, an Allister MacKenzie-designed course.

“I haven’t taken him to Pebble Beach and he hasn’t even played Torrey Pines yet,” dad said. “We’ll wait until he’s a little older and he can really appreciate it.”

At the pace he’s on now, Luke Potter might get plenty of chances to play those kind of courses — as a competitor.