His hands are steady, his pace deliberate. The 12-year-old boy, bronzed by the rays of the summer sun, has a look of intense concentration on his face as he lines up a 10-foot putt on the ninth hole of Lakeview Golf Course.
There’s nothing riding on whether he makes it; this is not a tournament, but a photo shoot. Nevertheless, his stroke is pure, and the ball falls in easily.
So while it may not matter now, his approach and his desire to succeed are what makes Tyler Neher a very special seventh grader.
While his schoolmates are busy blasting zombies in Call of Duty or working on their cannonballs at the pool, Neher spends his days on the golf course. When he isn’t competing in a myriad of events across Oklahoma, he’s working on his game, first with Steve Gardner, assistant pro at Dornick Hills, and now with Steve Ball of Edmond, a top 50 instructor in the country.
For Neher, it all matters as he prepares for the event of his life, the U.S. Kids World Golfing Championship, an elite collection of young golfing talent, to be played at Pinehurst in North Carolina from Aug. 2-4.
“I’ve been doing more practice than I normally do,” Neher said. “I’ve heard that the greens at Pinehurst drop off on every side, so getting some more work putting has been big.”
The event gathers players from across the world, and is often a meeting of the stars of tomorrow on the golfing scene.
The road to the highest level of the junior ranks has been a remarkably short one for Neher. He began to pick up the game on trips to Lakeview with his father, Scott, an avid golfer himself.
“He started learning to swing when he was three or four,” Scott Neher said. “He was just one of those kids who took to the game immediately.”
By the age of 8, Tyler had already won the junior tournament at Lakeview, competing against children three to four years his senior. By age 9, he competed in his first state event, a nine-hole event in Tulsa. Of course, Neher won, shooting a 42.
Having graduated up to 18-hole tournaments in the past year, Neher’s winning ways have continued at a torrid pace. In his last three events since qualifying for the US Kids World Championship, Neher has taken the victory in each of them, winning at Lincoln Park in Oklahoma City, Choctaw Creek in Choctaw and capping it off with a victory at Belmar in Norman two weeks ago, after shooting a blistering 71 on the final day.
“He’s just a very focused and determined kid,” his father said. “He loves the game and loves working on it.”
Page 2 of 2 - Gardner, a 60-year veteran of the game, is not only amazed at Neher’s physical talents for golf, but his mature and advanced mental approach.
“Even if you have the ability, what he does is hard to put into words because he’s just so natural,” Gardner said. “He always has a sense of where he’s at on the course.
“He’s also a confident player, to the point where he can just feel the shot. There are just certain things he does that are hard to teach.”
Gardner tell stories of a young man with a zealous love for deconstructing the game. While most younger players tend to gravitate towards the driving range just to see how far they can smash a tee shot, Neher spends his time focusing on approach, on short game and scrambling.
“He goes out there late in the summer all by himself at Lakeview and he’s out there working on his approach shots, working around the trees,” Gardner said. “Sometimes, like all kids, he gets frustrated when things don’t go his way, but he’s fearless.”
It is easy to begin making comparisons to another prodigiously talented former child phenom, Tiger Woods, and Neher doesn’t reject those comparisons. After all, Tiger is his favorite player.
“He’s so clutch,” Neher said. “It’s just really cool to watch. I’d like to think he’s the player I most model my own game after.”
For now, he’ll just be worrying about Pinehurst, specifically the No. 4 course at the luscious North Carolina resort.
“My goal is to shoot all three rounds in the 70s,” Neher said.
But where he goes afterwards? Well, there’s already an idea in his head.
“Right now, I’m just focused on going to OSU or another DI program,” Neher said.
And does Tyler have his own dreams of someday hoisting a major trophy of his own?
Perhaps. But if so, he’s not worrying about it.
“I try not to look that far ahead, because I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Neher said.