Local junior golfer tops state rankings

Jake Sheffield, 12, practices iron play on the Toqua Golf Course driving range.

Jake Sheffield is putting Loudon County on the map after recently earning a spot as the No. 1 junior golfer in the state in the 13-and-under division.

Sheffield is coming off a first-place finish in the U.S. Kids Golf Red, White and Blue Invitational held July 4-5 in Pinehurst, N.C, where he shot 10 under par.

“It’s always a great tournament for me and I always do well there,” he said. “I shot 10 under this year in two days — 66 and 68. That was my fourth year, and I’ve never placed outside the top five.”

Winning the tournament was one of the goals Sheffield set earlier this year.

“At the first of every year, and actually in February he did it this year, but he writes down his goals,” Kevin Sheffield, Jake’s father, said. “This is the cool part but one of them was to win this tournament because he’s been so close and didn’t quite get it done. His practices so far this year have been focused on that, and there’s a few more coming up, but that’s what he wanted to win this year. I thought that was kind of cool that he got focused in as an 11-year-old. He always asks to go practice and it’s something I never make him do, and it’s just something he loves to do.”

Jake developed a love for the game nearly five years ago and has continued to rise through the state rankings each year.

“I’ve been playing golf for about 4 1/2 years now probably, and just the aspect game has always kind of interested me,” he said. “It challenges both parts of your game — your mental and physical. I just really think it’s a fun game to play, but it’s very hard.”

While homeschooled, Jake often plays in Tellico Village because of his father’s business, Sheffield Wealth Management.

“One time we were playing hole three (at Toqua Golf Course) on the par five and Jake hit a drive way down the fairway, and there were some ladies down there near the hole that we didn’t see,” Kevin said. “I apologized to them because I didn’t know they were down there, and they looked over and were like, ‘Is that Jake?’ I’ve been in the Village for 12 years and still don’t know a lot of people, but it seems they all know who Jake is. I’m no longer Kevin, I’m Jake’s father, which is OK with me.”

Jake is a member of the Christian Academy of Knoxville middle school golf team, which is coached by Chris Sykes, Village golf director of operations.

“We’ve had the good fortune of having a bunch of high-level players come through the CAK program, but quickly we identified that he’s exceptional,” Sykes said. “We’ve had a few guys come through, one that went onto play at Alabama and one that went on to Tennessee, and Jake is for sure at that level. He’s a tremendous young player and tremendous young man. Even though our season was cut short ... he got the Most Competitive award because regardless of the drill we did in practice or the activity, he wanted to win.”

Jake credits long days at the driving range for his progress.

“I try to work on the weak parts, and it’s usually about two or 2 1/2 hours, so I hit, chip and putt,” he said.

“If we’ve had a tournament the day before that week and even if he won and there’s something about his game he didn’t particularly like, that’s usually the first thing he’ll go work on,” Kevin added. “It is unusual for kids to want to go. We were on our way back from Pinehurst this past weekend and we wore ourselves out, and he wanted to go practice the next day. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to do that.”

The young golfer has been able to drastically improve his game this year despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Golf has been considered an essential sport, so none of these kids have stopped,” Kevin said. “I was talking to a guy with the Tennessee Junior Golf Foundation, and they’ve actually had a record number of signups this year for junior golf. I think it’s partly due to because nothing else is really available. They do a great job of social distancing and the way they set everything up. They keep these kids safe, and if they get too close they’ll let them know. It’s ran very well.”

He hopes to play collegiately and eventually on the Professional Golf Association tour.

“The first goal is to get a college scholarship and pay for college,” Jake said. “Wherever it takes me is wherever it takes me after that. If I get on the PGA tour, great, but I have a couple of backups if nothing happens. I think, for my age, I’m a long hitter, but I feel like I’m one of the best around the green for my age because I think I have a really good short game. I work on that probably 80 percent of the time, so I feel like that’s a big part of my game.”

He will compete July 30-Aug. 1 in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst Resort.

“He’s very driven and competitive, and that’s really, I think, what drives him,” Sykes said. “He’s been blessed with some talent, some skill and afforded all kinds of opportunities. I think his potential is unlimited. It’ll be interesting to see but this point, I could see him winning the whole thing. At this point and at this age, he’s the total package for sure.”