GOOD MOON RISING: Temple junior golfer's work ethic pays off as Moon makes 6A state tournament debut
BREAKING THROUGH: Temple junior golfer Daniel Moon will compete in the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state tournament Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. According to Wildcats third-year coach Allen Roark, Moon is believed to be the first Temple boys golfer to qualify for the state tournament. The District 12-6A runner-up to Belton senior Dallas Hankamer, Moon earned Region II's final medalist berth for state after he made a 25-foot par putt on the second hole of a three-man playoff. Moon will tee off in the first round at 9 a.m. Monday on the par-5 10th hole. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
On April 20 at Waco's Bear Ridge Golf Club, Temple junior Daniel Moon made a 25-foot par putt to win on the second hole of a three-player, sudden-death playoff and earn Region II's final medalist berth for the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state tournament.
Wildcats third-year coach Allen Roark said Moon is believed to be the first Temple boys golfer to qualify for the state tournament. So after achieving such an impressive feat, the 16-year-old Moon surely enjoyed a big celebration with his teammates, went out for a nice meal and then returned home to relax and let his accomplishment soak in, right?
Well, not so much. But it certainly wasn't a case of Moon not wanting to do those things; he simply didn't have enough time to.
He and his father, Jun Ho Moon, had to get home, pack up and make a quick departure for the long drive to Athens, Alabama, where Daniel was entered to compete in the American Junior Golf Association's three-round AJGA Junior at Canebrake Club beginning April 22.
“It was actually right after the (Region II) tournament. We went home and then I'd say 2 hours after I finished the playoff, we went to Alabama,” Moon recalled on Wednesday afternoon during his practice session at Sammons Golf Links. “It was a long drive, something like 14 hours. It was insane. I was worn out. I did some homework in Alabama, but I had a lot of makeup work to do after.”
Such is the customary lifestyle for Moon, who's invested countless amounts of time, effort and energy into his golf game in the hope of eventually earning an NCAA Division I scholarship. He recently competed in qualifiers for the U.S. Open and Texas Amateur, though he didn't advance in either. He also plans to try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Junior and has upcoming AJGA tournaments in Houston and Louisiana.
“After state, I'm actually booked every week for practice rounds and tournaments, so this month and next month are the busiest months of the year,” Moon said. “In August I get to rest a little bit.”
By the way, Moon – who's using the remote learning option this school year – tied for 15th place out of 51 players in the Alabama tournament, shooting a 1-under-par 215 total that was highlighted by a 4-under 68 in the final round.
Whether it's advancing to the state tournament or performing well in a high-level AJGA event with an elite national field, nothing that Moon does surprises Roark, a 1987 Temple graduate who played golf for the Wildcats and this spring guided them to their first regional tournament since 1999. The coach has a front-row seat to witness the strong work ethic that forms the backbone of Moon's game.
“Making history at Temple High School is a pretty rare thing. I'm just along for the ride. Daniel's such a talented kid, I can't take credit for anything other than trying to challenge him at practice, because his work ethic is just beyond (normal),” Roark said. “There's very few kids . . . Daniel and (Belton state-bound senior) Dallas (Hankamer), their work is beyond what anyone else at this age is willing to do.
“On days when I cancel practice, Daniel does it anyway. He eats it up. He actually pushes the other ones and they get to see an example of what it takes to be good. I attribute his work ethic to helping our kids make regionals for the first time since 1999. His work ethic is what helped push the other kids to believe they could do it. It does rub off.”
The reward for Moon's commitment and diligent work is a spot in the 72-player field – 12 teams and 12 individual medalists – for the 6A state tournament, scheduled to be played Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. After playing a practice round there on Sunday, Moon will begin his first round at 9 a.m. Monday on the par-5 10th hole, playing alongside Dallas Jesuit's Gordon Schmerbeck and Bret Gray of Schertz Clemens.
“There's some really good guys in that field, and I'm used to seeing all of them in my (junior circuit) tournaments,” said the 5-foot-7, 135-pound Moon, who will turn 17 in August. “It would be one of the bigger tournaments if there was a field like this.”
One of those “really good guys” is his friend, rival and occasional practice partner Hankamer, the Belton senior who's back to pursue a state championship after he finished in third place at state as a sophomore in 2019, one stroke out of a playoff for the title. He tees off at 8 a.m. Monday, also on No. 10.
Moon was the District 12-6A runner-up to Hankamer at Stonetree in Killeen, and Hankamer's two-day 147 total at the Region II tournament was good for the second medalist berth and one shot better than Moon's 148 total that forced him to earn his state ticket in a three-man playoff.
Moon said that competing with the 6-2, 170-pound Hankamer and playing practice rounds with the Texas A&M signee has been a vital factor in helping the Temple standout sharpen his own game.
“Dallas is a great player and I'm glad I have someone to practice with who's better than me. He hits it a lot longer. Obviously he's taller than me, so he's got a lot more length than me,” said Moon, who was paired with Hankamer for both rounds of the district tournament. “It was really fun. Seeing how he played, it was a good experience playing with a guy who's better than me or just as good as me. It's always fun playing with him in a tournament. If he gets his putter going, it's insane how low he can go. He's just a really good player.”
It's definitely a mutual admiration society, because Hankamer commended Moon – who favors a controlled, lower-than-average ball flight – on his strong, well-rounded game.
“Daniel has a good game. He's got a very good short game, good wedges and hits it straight,” said Hankamer, who chuckled as he added, “I was obviously glad I snuck past him by one shot (at regionals). I didn't want to be in that playoff.”
BUSY GUY: Within two hours after he won a playoff in the Class 6A Region II tournament at Bear Ridge in Waco on April 20 to gain the final medalist berth for the state tournament, Temple junior Daniel Moon and his father, Jun Ho Moon, began driving to Athens, Alabama, so that Moon could compete in the three-round American Junior Golf Association AJGA Junior at Canebrake Club. He tied for 15th place out of 51 players in an elite field. The 16-year-old Moon makes his state tournament debut Monday and Tuesday at Georgetown's Legacy Hills Golf Club, where he'll be one of 12 medalists in the 72-player field. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Speaking of the regional playoff at Bear Ridge, Moon considered himself fortunate just to take part in it along with Klein Cain's Andrew Spaulding and Jack Wiebe of Willis. Moon shot a first-round 73 and a final-round 75.
“If I had to rate it on an A-B-C scale, it would probably be an E or something like that,” Moon said jokingly. “It wasn't my best, I'll tell you that. I didn't feel comfortable with a lot of things. My putting was better, but ball-striking and swing-wise, nothing felt right.
“It was actually tough. On 14 (in the final round) I hit it out of bounds. My last four holes I one-putted from like 10 feet out, so it was pretty tough. I made a good birdie on 15, made a 10-footer on 16 and another 10-footer on 17. The last hole, I had this 6-footer downhill for par and curled it in. I didn't know how big that putt was going to be.”
In the three-man playoff with the final state berth at stake, Moon had a great opportunity to prevail on the first hole, but his 7-foot birdie putt on the No. 9 green lipped out and all three players made par. The trio proceeded to the par-4 No. 1 hole, where Moon's third shot was a difficult chip that stopped 25 feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Spaulding faced a 15-foot putt for birdie after a stellar approach shot.
Knowing there was a high probability that Spaulding would do no worse than two-putt for par, Moon told himself that he needed to give his lengthy putt the best opportunity to go in.
“It was uphill and broke a little right. My main thing was to get it there and hopefully give it a chance,” Moon said. “You don't want to leave those putts short. You always want to give yourself a chance. I was focusing on my own putt, to be honest. It was perfect. When it was 10 feet out, I thought it was going in, and it actually did. Everybody went crazy. It was pretty cool.”
Moon's clutch bomb for par eliminated Wiebe, but the playoff still was decided by Spaulding's putter.
“His putt was not easy, by any means,” Moon said.
Spaulding ran his birdie effort 3 feet past the cup, then missed the short par putt that would have sent him and Moon to a third playoff hole. With that stunning sequence of events, Moon became Temple's long-awaited first boys qualifier for the state golf tournament.
Moon said he fed off of the energy and support of the spectators who followed the playoff, including his teammates and coaches and also Hankamer and other Belton players, who placed eighth in the team standings after winning the 12-6A title.
“It was pretty cool. I'd rather have a lot of people watching me than three or four. It had to have been 25 or 30 people. I felt relaxed, actually. It couldn't have gone any better,” Moon said. “I'd say more than half (of the crowd) was going for me. Even Belton's team was there. It was cool having a lot of guys going for me.”
Said Hankamer on Tuesday: “I loved to see Daniel make that putt. He actually does that all the time, so I wasn't really surprised. It was awesome to see him make it out (to state), too.”
An interesting thing from Moon's perspective is that he thinks he was playing much better golf last spring entering what would have been Temple's district and potentially regional tournaments, but they were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The funny story about last year is that around district, I was playing my best golf ever. I started hitting the ball really well and started hitting it farther. I was so ready for district and regionals,” Moon recalled. “ I felt like I could make it (to state). I was definitely disappointed. I was telling Coach Roark, 'Man, if only COVID didn't happen, I could have had a shot at it.'”
Despite his frustration about how his sophomore year ended, Moon remained active in the competitive junior golf ranks. Last July he placed third in the AJGA Stan Utley Mid-America Youth Golf Foundation All-Star tournament at the Country Club of Missouri, and this March he fired a two-round total of 3-under 139 in firm, fast conditions to win the Texas Legends Junior Tour Spring Preview at The Golf Club at Texas A&M.
“That was one of the bigger tournaments I've won. It was brutal. It was super windy and the greens were dried out because of the wind and the snow storm,” Moon said. “They were extremely quick and dry. It's the type of conditions I like putting on.”
Moon praised the dedication and financial commitment of his parents for helping him chase his dream of playing high-level college golf. His father drives him to most of his non-school tournaments, but if he's unable to because of work duties, Moon's mother, Song Joo, takes over and accompanies him to his various events. Moon also has a college-age brother who sometimes goes to tournaments with him.
Moon said he hasn't received any Division I scholarship offers yet, although he has been contacted with interest from Houston and some other large-school programs in Texas and hopes his recruiting will pick up with a strong performance in the 6A state tournament.
HOMETOWN SUCCESS STORY: In his third season as Temple High School's head golf coach, 1987 Temple graduate and former Wildcats golfer Allen Roark guided the Wildcats to second place in the District 12-6A tournament at Stonetree in Killeen and their first team appearance in a regional tournament since 1999. Sophomore John Roark, his son, placed seventh in the district tournament. Temple junior Daniel Moon advanced to the Class 6A state tournament and will compete Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills in Georgetown. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Even though he's used to competing at a high level as an individual, Moon derives great enjoyment from playing with his Temple teammates and striving to steadily increase the profile and expectations of Roark's program.
The Wildcats broke through in the 12-6A tournament to finish in second place to Belton's stalwart program. Along with Moon's runner-up finish, sophomore John Roark – the coach's son – placed seventh with a 169 total and junior Cole Gowan and sophomores Ben Holle and Peyton Malina also aided Temple's cause.
“I love playing with the team so much. It's always fun playing with those guys in tournaments,” Moon said. “They're really cool guys and they put in the work all the time. Nobody's forcing them to be out here. They actually love practicing.
“Our team played really well (at district) and I'm glad they got to experience playing with better guys (at regionals). They got to see what it takes to make it to state and what it looks like. It's going to be a good experience for them. I feel like we've got a really good shot at winning district last year. I love the team.”
Moon said Allen Roark's coaching style has inspired and motivated him to pursue greater success.
“Him as a person, I learn so much from him,” Moon said. “He gives back more than he takes, so I've learned a lot from him. He's one of the best coaches I've ever been around.”
Whereas Hankamer's appearance at state will be Belton's fifth medalist berth (by four players) in the last nine years, Moon hopes that his history-making trip to state will help lead other Wildcats to similar success.
“I'm glad I can be a start to that for Temple,” he said. “Hopefully it attracts a lot more junior golfers to come play here.”
Moon said he's struggled with his long game this spring, although recent lessons with Waco-based instructor Ray Lamb, who also works with Hankamer, have him trending in a positive direction as the state tournament approaches.
“I haven't actually been hitting it well for the past few months now. But I've been practicing pretty hard these past few days and put in a lot of hours on the range, and now it's starting to feel like my normal swing again,” said Moon, whose highlights from his many practice rounds at Sammons include shooting a 10-under 61 “five or six months ago” and making an albatross 2 on the par-5 first hole.
Shooting scores in the low- to mid-60s probably is unrealistic for Moon in his 6A state tournament debut. However, for a dedicated junior golfer with his wealth of experience, Moon certainly has put in enough hard work through the years to rightfully have high expectations for how he'll perform on the big stage at Legacy Hills.
“I'm trying to win the thing. That's the main goal,” Moon said. “I don't think I've ever been to a tournament trying to get just a top-10 or a top-15. Always the goal is to win."