NEW MOON PHASE: Seasoned Temple senior brings experience, revamped outlook into second 6A state trip
Updated: May 9, 2022
ONE MORE SHOT: Temple senior Daniel Moon, shown Tuesday afternoon at Sammons Golf Links in Temple, is set to compete in his second consecutive UIL Class 6A state tournament at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. The Sam Houston State signee tees off in the first round at 8 a.m. Monday on the 10th hole. District 12-6A champion Moon won a sudden-death playoff at Bear Ridge in Waco to earn Region II's final medalist berth for state. He won a three-man playoff at regionals in 2021 before tying Belton's Dallas Hankamer for 38th place in the state tournament with rounds of 75 and 76 at Legacy Hills. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Daniel Moon cares greatly about golf, but the Temple High School senior, back-to-back Class 6A state tournament qualifier and survivor of multiple-hole playoffs doesn’t care too much about the actual scores he shoots.
To be more specific, Moon pours a huge amount of time and energy into maximizing all aspects of his game, but as his stellar high school career nears completion, he’s come to discover and believe that focusing on the process of playing high-level golf is a more important thing than the results themselves.
On one day, the 5-foot-8, 130-pound Moon might shoot a 75 in difficult conditions and walk away feeling proud that he persevered and played within himself to carve out the best possible score. But in a different scenario, he doesn’t want to enter any round thinking he’d like to shoot a 69 or 70 when he knows his well-honed skills make him capable of shooting a 66 or 67.
So as the battle-tested Moon prepares to compete in his second consecutive University Interscholastic League 6A state tournament Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown, the Sam Houston State University signee vows to be fully engaged on every stroke in his final event as a Wildcat.
Moon’s stated goal? Winning the individual state championship, one year after he tied Belton then-senior Dallas Hankamer for 38th place in his debut at Legacy Hills as Temple’s first boys golfer to compete in the state tournament.
His scores in his return to the state stage? Moon certainly hopes they’re going to be low enough to capture the gold medal, but they will be whatever they will be.
“Winning is the goal. But I’m going to go out there and play the best I can and see where that leads me. That brings out the best in you, I believe,” Moon said during a break from practice Tuesday afternoon at Temple’s home course, Sammons Golf Links. “If you get so zoned in on a score, once you get to that score you say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to par out.’ If you don’t have a score in mind, you’re just playing.
“Obviously the main goal is to win the tournament. I wouldn’t go into the tournament if I didn’t think I could win it. It’s very doable.”
Temple fourth-year head coach Allen Roark certainly can vouch for Moon’s new phase regarding strategy and priorities. Roark saw it firsthand one month ago when he caught up with Moon’s group at Killeen’s Stonetree Golf Course during the District 12-6A tournament and asked the senior standout for his current score.
“I had been checking on my other players and I came back to him and said, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I don’t even know,’” Roark recalled with a grin. “It takes a maturity to handle an 18-hole round of golf that way and not worry about your score and only worry about the process. If you’re trying to play to a certain score, that’s where you get yourself into trouble. He’s matured enough and is confident enough in his game that he doesn’t worry about his score anymore. That’s incredible.”
For the record, Moon cruised to the 12-6A individual championship by 11 strokes in the two-round event, although he was disappointed that Temple’s team fell five shots short of earning a second straight appearance in the Region II tournament at Bear Ridge Golf Club in Waco. Before last year, the Wildcats hadn’t reached the regional tournament since 1999.
Bear Ridge is where Moon on April 19 won a sudden-death playoff for the second straight spring to capture Region II’s third and final individual spot in the state tournament.
Moon begins his state title quest in the first round at 8 a.m. Monday on the par-5 10th hole at Legacy Hills. He’ll be playing alongside two other players who grabbed No. 3 medalist berths at other regional tournaments: Katy Tompkins senior Colt Tenpenny and Smithson Valley sophomore Anniston McIlwain. The 72-player field – comprised of 12 teams and 12 medalists – will play the final round Tuesday.
A NEW APPROACH: Temple golfer Daniel Moon admittedly thought more about target scores during his first three high school seasons, but as a senior he's focused on the process of playing his best golf more than the results. Said the District 12-6A champion leading into his second straight Class 6A state tournament appearance Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills in Georgetown: "Winning is the goal. But I'm going to go out there and play the best I can and see where that leads me. That brings out the best in you, I believe." (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Neither of Moon’s trips to the state tournament has come easily by any stretch.
Last April 20 at Bear Ridge, after shooting a two-round total of 4-over-par 148, Moon made a 25-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to win a three-player duel for Region II’s final medalist position in the state tournament.
In this year’s regional tournament at Bear Ridge three weeks ago, Moon and his competitors battled windy conditions and a challenging course setup. Waco Midway’s Brayden Bare won the individual title at even-par 144 and Moon kept his game together well enough to shoot two 75s for a 150 total, tied for 10th place overall with Tyler Legacy sophomore Braden Bergman.
“Both days it was a bit windy. The course was playing tough for the whole field. It was just one of those days that you stay patient throughout the whole day and just look at the middle of the green and just make your pars,” Moon said. “If a 20-footer drops, you make birdie. It was like that both days. Nothing was really dropping, but I didn’t make too many big mistakes.
“(The scores) could have been a lot better, but you could say that about any golf round. It’s such a mental grind out there, and I think that physically tires you out even more than the sport in general.”
Moon had to come up with a clutch performance simply to get himself into a playoff for Region II’s final state berth. The tees were moved up on Bear Ridge’s par-4 18th hole, which was playing only 315 yards. With a repeat trip to state potentially hanging in the balance, Moon felt he needed to play aggressively.
“There was no live scoring this year, so I didn’t know exactly where I stood. I was like, ‘If you make birdie, you might have a chance,’” he recalled. “I grabbed driver. I hadn’t missed it right all day, but I ended up pushing it way right (into a hazard area). We looked for the ball for 2 minutes or so and it’s not there, so I took a drop (for a one-stroke penalty). One of the spectators walks 15 feet from where I just dropped and my ball wasn’t even in the hazard. So after that, obviously the thought from there is to make it, and I hit a great golf shot.”
Moon’s third-shot approach from 83 yards hit the green and lipped out of the cup before spinning back to 5 feet. He then confidently made his straight, uphill putt to salvage a must-have par, though he didn’t yet know what it meant.
“I go up to the scorer’s table and look at the scores and I was like, ‘Man, we’re the last group. I’m going into a playoff,’” Moon said.
Roark said Moon was unfazed by the white-knuckle atmosphere of a playoff for state.
“Daniel gave a couple (shots) up and missed a few short putts. They didn’t have live scoring this year, which bugged the crap out of me and him,” Roark said. “A lot of kids will break under that kind of pressure, seeing somebody right on their tail or whatever. He wants that, because to him that’s blood in the water. He’s like, ‘I’m right on this guy. I’m going to get him.’”
Moon met Bergman on the 186-yard par-3 17th hole to begin their sudden-death playoff. Another playoff for a medal was happening in front of them, and Moon showed his experience and maturity by learning from what he observed from that group.
“It was good that they teed off first, because it was a good visual of what the wind was going to do. When you get into those situations, you hit the ball a little farther just because of adrenaline,” said Moon, who made a par at No. 17 less than an hour earlier. “I grabbed a 5-iron at first and I was so ready, walking to the tee box saying, ‘I’m going at this flag.’ But I backed off of it and grabbed the 6-iron that I hit earlier and hit it to the middle of the green. Just hitting that green is good.
“(Bergman) actually hit it closer, to about 17 feet. I had about 20 feet. My ball was right behind his, so I was giving him the line (on their birdie putts). I gave it a great run, left myself a foot and a half and tapped in. He missed it by an inch or so and gave me a heart attack.”
They proceeded to No. 18, where Moon earlier survived his perilous adventure. This time he eschewed smashing driver, saying, “I learned from my mistake on that first one and hit a 3-wood up there.”
Moon’s tee shot left him 50 yards from the hole, while Bergman used an iron and had about 110 yards in. However, Moon then discovered that he wasn’t really in an advantageous situation.
“I walk up to my ball and I don’t have the greatest lie at all," he said. "I was in one of those wormholes, and if I hit it really good it’s going to come out all right, but if I don’t hit it good at all it’s going to come out terrible."
Bergman hit a well-played wedge approach and gave himself a 15-foot putt for birdie, then Moon’s shot with a 54-degree wedge went left and came to rest 45 feet from the hole.
“It was brutal. I just didn’t know how it was going to come out. It was so unpredictable,” Moon said. “I was just trying to chase one up there, but I caught the ground first and the ball rolled up the face and it came out straight left and short.”
At that point, the Temple golfer probably would have done well simply to extend the playoff to a third hole. However, the competitive side of Moon made him believe that, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, anything was possible.
“I was walking and looking at this putt and telling myself, ‘It’s not over until it’s over.’ You never know in golf. It’s a match play mentality. You always expect your opponent to make something. That’s the best way to play,” Moon said. “I had this huge left-to-right breaking putt from 45 feet. I hit it probably 6 feet outside the hole and hit it a bit firmer than I thought, but I gave it a great run. I thought I made it about halfway there.”
Bergman had a birdie putt to win the playoff but it barely missed, leaving him with what Moon called “a 3½-foot slider coming back.” Meanwhile, Moon was faced with essentially the same 5-foot uphill par putt he had on No. 18 in regulation, and he calmly sank this one also.
“I was fortunate to go first,” Moon said. “The thing about (Bergman’s) birdie putt is if you try to make it (and it misses), it’s going to go 3 feet past no matter what. He backed off the (par) putt after he set up to it. I think he got a little nervous. And unfortunately for him he missed and that was the end of it.”
Moon gave credit to his Temple-based instructor Chris McMillan, a former mini-tour pro golfer, for helping him remain strong mentally and emerge from another pressure-packed playoff.
“Chris is my putting coach and he’s also a very good mental coach. He gets my mind into a really good mindset going into a lot of tournaments,” said Moon, who will turn 18 in August. “I remember I’d played in some playoffs and lost every single one of them, but going into these past few that I’ve won, it’s always been the thought of, ‘A par is always going to win a playoff.’ If you can make the par first, you have a good chance of winning it.”
Moon’s display of mental focus and fortitude was a familiar sight for Roark, who knew how important earning a second trip to state was for his seasoned senior star.
“That was Daniel’s motivation – ‘I’m not going out without going to state again.’ He told me point-blank after Day 1 at regionals, ‘Don’t worry, Coach. We’re going back to state.’ That kid is more mentally tough than any athlete I’ve ever been around in any sport,” said Roark, a 1987 Temple graduate whose son, John Roark, is a junior on the Wildcats’ golf squad. “And he did it the same way as he did last year. It was the last spot. That kid’s not going to lose a playoff.
“When he got up to tee off on No. 17 on the first playoff hole, he had no idea there was anyone around him. He was laser-focused and didn’t look at anyone or anything except his golf ball. He was just not going to lose. Daniel’s a blue-collar kid. His dad’s a mechanic. He’s not privileged at all. That’s just the kind of kid we get here. He’s the only boy who’s ever done it from Temple, so we talked about not being a one-and-done or a one-hit wonder.”
Only after the playoff concluded did Moon – a veteran of the American Junior Golf Association circuit and high-level Texas junior events – become emotional about achieving the rare feat of back-to-back individual state tournament appearances.
“Last year’s playoff was way more exciting, because I made a 25-footer for par and I got in. This year wasn’t as exciting, but it meant so much more to me. I didn’t want people to think it was a one-and-done deal,” Moon said. “It was a little bit more emotional. I remember walking off the green and giving Coach Roark a pretty big hug. I had a little bit of tears running down my face.”
One week later Moon, who carries a USGA handicap index of +2.7, competed in a U.S. Open local qualifier at Tangle Ridge in Grand Prairie. His even-par 72 was five shots short of the 67 that was needed to advance, but Moon’s score placed him in the top half of the field and beat out a slew of professional golfers and older elite amateurs.
Seeking his first appearance in a USGA championship, Moon also plans to compete in upcoming qualifiers for the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur.
DRIVEN TO SUCCEED: Temple then-junior Daniel Moon hits his drive on the par-5 third hole during the final round of the Class 6A state tournament last May at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. Moon was even par through 11 holes in that round before four straight bogeys made him settle for a 4-over-par 76 and a 151 total, tied for 38th place in his state debut. Moon, a Sam Houston State signee, returns to Legacy Hills for his second state tournament appearance, beginning at 8 a.m. Monday on the par-5 10th hole. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
After shooting a 3-over 75 in his first round of the state tournament a year ago at Legacy Hills, Moon came back strong in the final round and moved into contention for a top-20 finish. He was 1 under for the day through seven holes and even par after 11, but his momentum stalled with four consecutive bogeys on holes 12-15 and he slid down the leaderboard.
Moon closed with three pars to post a 76 for a two-day total of 7-over 151 that shared 38th place with friendly rival Hankamer, the 12-6A champion who now plays for Texas A&M along with fellow Belton graduate William Paysse. Although he didn’t finish as well as he had hoped, Moon played steady golf in his state debut and didn’t absorb a penalty stroke or make worse than a bogey.
“There was no regrets from that tournament. I definitely learned a lot, playing in front of more people than I’m used to in high school tournaments,” said Moon, who planned to play his practice round Sunday at Legacy Hills before teeing off with the first group on No. 10 early Monday morning, which he views as ideal.
“It’s definitely a course you have to pick your way through,” he added about Legacy Hills, part of the Sun City residential development. “It doesn’t matter if you hit it long or short on that course. It’s the same for everybody. It’s a course you can really get at. If you get on a roll, you can really go low and shoot a low number. It’s a nice golf course and fits a draw very well.”
Moon is a different player now than the 16-year-old who debuted at state a year ago. Along with the process-over-results approach he’s adopted, he said he’s grown 2 inches, put on some good weight with an improved diet and has gotten significantly stronger, which should help him with hot temperatures expected both days in Georgetown.
“It’s going to be a little different this year. My ball flight’s changed a little bit and I’m hitting it a little bit farther,” Moon said. “It’s not uncontrollably longer. It’s about 10 yards longer (with a 7-iron), so the par-3s are definitely going to play different and it should be a little bit easier.”
Said Roark: “Daniel’s little but he’s solid muscle, though. He’s a very strong kid for 130 pounds. He runs. He regularly, physically works out for the game. He’s an athlete. He’s a pretty good little basketball player, too. He takes everything seriously. We had seven invitationals this year and he won four and I think he got two seconds and a fifth. He kicked their butts (at district).”
Moon said every part of his game is trending in the right direction going into state.
“Everything’s been really positive lately. My golf game is in pretty good shape as of right now and I haven’t had any injuries,” he said. “I putted very well at regionals. My hands were very steady and I felt good, and I’m trying to keep that same momentum.”
On the topic of putting, Moon said his revamped approach – with help from McMillan – has been a boon to his game and scoring.
“My putting has gotten a little better. I’ve become a lot less result-oriented. It’s more of the process. I’m making less bad mistakes on the greens,” he said. “So if the ball goes in from 15 feet, it goes in. If the ball doesn’t go in, you can only control so much. If I hit a bad putt and miss it, that’s on me. But if I hit a really good stroke and thought everything was square and I miss it, I did all that I could do. It’s healthier for your mentality throughout the entire day. It’s less stressing.”
Moon believes his new way of thinking can free him up to play his best golf for two days in the state tournament at Legacy Hills. Just don’t ask him what scores he wants and needs to shoot.
“I wouldn’t really focus on score much. It’s just play the best that you can and see where that ends up. It was a lot different last year. Last year I was more thinking I had a specific score in mind,” Moon said. “I wanted to shoot under par both days and give myself the best chance, but now it’s just go out there and play the best you can. And if that leads to a win, that leads to a win. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Moon is excited about his upcoming college golf career at NCAA Division I Sam Houston State in Huntsville, where he’ll study finance and play for Bearkats 10th-year coach Brandt Kieschnick, a former Sam Houston golf standout. Whispering Pines and Bluejack National are among the high-level courses Moon said he’s looking forward to playing regularly.
Although a year ago Moon was striving to catch the attention of Division I college coaches, he said he feels no less pressure now even after he verbally committed to Sam Houston in September and officially signed in November.
“I mean, it definitely does feel good, but it’s actually a little bit more pressure than I felt before I got a scholarship,” explained Moon, who said he’s benefited from a golf-friendly academic schedule as a senior. “Because now you don’t want guys to think like, ‘He shot this? How is he going there?’ As of right now it’s like, ‘Man, I’ve got to keep playing well. I can’t be slacking,’ because guys are going to think, ‘Man, how did this guy get into this school? I’m playing better than him.’
“But to go to college on an athletic scholarship, that’s huge. Not growing up in the wealthiest family, it helps out a lot financially. I was fortunate enough to practice hard and play well in events and earn sponsors and find people to help me out. That was motivation for me to play better and get that scholarship.”
Added Roark: “Daniel’s got this inner determination that is rare in a kid his age. Football players or anybody who signs that (scholarship) deal, most of them skate because they know they’ve made it. To him, he hasn’t made it yet. His goal is to play on TV (as a pro golfer). To him, it’s just another step in the process of success.”
A WILDCAT THROUGH AND THROUGH: 1987 Temple High School graduate Allen Roark is completing his fourth year as head coach of the Wildcats' golf program. With senior Daniel Moon ready to compete in his second consecutive Class 6A state tournament Monday and Tuesday in Georgetown, Roark said Moon, a Sam Houston State signee, has boosted the standards and expectations for Temple golf: "He's one of those once-in-a-career players. I mean, he really is. He's definitely a Wildcat Hall of Famer, there's no doubt." (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Roark was promoted from Temple’s middle school golf coach to head coach of the Wildcats before Moon entered high school in 2018. It’s been a relationship that both of them have enjoyed and been positively impacted by, for multiple reasons.
“Playing for Coach Roark throughout my years in high school golf, I don’t think I could have a better experience,” Moon said. “He’s helped me through a lot of down times and humbled me through a lot of good times. He’s one of those guys I’m really blessed to meet. He’s been a big help to my golf game, my family and my whole career. He’s a good guy. That’s all I can say.”
On the flip side, Roark has extremely high marks not only for the talented and accomplished golfer Moon is but also the way he’s gladly demonstrated leadership to the other players in Temple’s up-and-coming golf program, which wants successful seasons to become the standard.
“Daniel’s helpful with the other kids. He’s worked with our middle schoolers. He’s become such a team player,” Roark said. “His whole youth, it was just him. He’s grown so much in the last four years as far as being a team player – not just encouraging the rest of them but jumping on them when they’re not playing or practicing. He’s like the ‘coach on the field’ in football.
“I do that every tournament when we get out there: 'Y’all go follow Daniel and do what he does.’ Leading up to district we’d have a short-game day and a putting day, and he would lead practice. I can count on him to coach other players. He’s one of those once-in-a-career players. I mean, he really is. He’s definitely a Wildcat Hall of Famer, there’s no doubt.”