Editor’s note: This story ran in the April 26 issue of Golfweek, devoted to junior golf. Dalke recently won his third AJGA invitational title at the Ping Junior Invitational.
FORT WORTH, Texas – Deep in the video archives at the Jim McLean Junior Academy lies practice-range footage of Brad Dalke, circa 2007. He wears oversized shoes, tan golf slacks and a loose-fitting polo shirt, and he chokes the life out of an iron. It’s unmistakably Dalke, minus the maturity and polish that would come with thousands of golf holes played in the six years since.
On a dreary Saturday afternoon at the academy, Brad’s father, Bill, replays split-screened, head-on and down-the- line views of that swing in an indoor practice room. Dalke, now 15, looks at the TV screen briefly and shakes his head as his mother, Kay, coos maternally about his oversized attire.
Now that Dalke boards at McLean, a once-crowded Dalke home in McKinney, on the northeast edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, is empty – at least on weeknights. Athletics run deep in the family culture, but the path for Brad, the youngest of seven children, has been different than those of his four sisters and two brothers.
It seems like a lifetime ago that he verbally committed to the Oklahoma golf team, and Kay concedes with a wry smile that he gave his word to head coach Ryan Hybl not in August 2010, days before his 13th birthday, but in February 2010, while still a sixth-grader. Oklahoma officials wanted Brad to wait until his seventh- grade year to go public. Predictably, that story gained attention.
“I knew it would be controversial,” said Bill Dalke, a starting linebacker on Oklahoma’s 1975 national-champion- ship football team. “My whole concern was the pressure it would put on Brad.”
When Dalke committed, he was No. 514 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, but No. 1 in the Class of 2016. Since then, Dalke has climbed 509 spots in the rankings but has grown only 2 inches and 10 pounds, to 5 feet 10 inches and 185 pounds. Far from folding under the extra pressure of that commitment, Dalke has thrived, becoming one of the players to beat in junior golf.
If there is a theme to Dalke’s golf career, it’s that he seeks out and performs well under those situations. Last August, that meant asking for the West team’s anchor spot at the AJGA Wyndham Cup. When it came down to Dalke and Cody Proveaux, the reigning AJGA Rolex Player of the Year, on Bay Hill’s 18th green with the cup on the line, Proveaux made and Dalke missed. Dalke handled it with poise, plucking Proveaux’s ball from the cup, replacing the flag and moving on.
Kay Dalke knows about that poise now, but when her son earned a spot in the AJGA Thunderbird International the spring after his commitment – rare for a 13-year-old – she began to worry. When players were introduced on the big screen at the pre-tournament banquet, Dalke’s resume was comparatively thin.
“Bill, we’ve messed up,” Kay remembers telling her husband that evening over the phone.
She began telling Brad to “keep it realistic.” There would be no shame in finishing last, she insisted. At the end of the week, he became the youngest male winner of an AJGA invitational in history.
That cactus-shaped Thunderbird trophy is the centerpiece in a display cabinet just inside the front door at the McLean Academy. A few months ago, a regal-looking HP Boys Championship trophy left the Dalke kitchen counter and found a place to its left. The burnished bronze spoils of his 2010 U.S. Kids World Championship title are to the right, completing an admirable junior golf trifecta. Dalke has become a part of Oklahoma golf history before even teeing it up for the Sooners, but he’s slowly expanding his place in McLean Academy lore, too. It’s a place dense in Texas golf memorabilia, and Hunter Haas, J.J. Henry and Jason Day are among the touring pros who interact with the students.
“It quantifies more of the storylines on how everybody gets successful,” said Joey Wuertemberger, Dalke’s swing coach.
Dalke’s ability to continually face the question Where do I go from here? has played heavily into his storyline. He slowly has added elite amateur events to his schedule, but his goal remains AJGA Rolex Player of the Year.
“I think I just need to keep playing junior events, keep trying to learn how to win some more, and then maybe go to the next level,” he said.
Dalke needed an environment such as McLean, even if it meant giving up traditional high school golf. Kay Dalke, the girls golf coach at McKinney Boyd High School, says that prospect excited the Dalkes. Competing on the national level has satisfied some of those yearnings.
“I now see that what he’s getting to do is so special,” she said.
It makes you wonder what kind of change the next six years could bring.