ONE MORE SHOT: Driven by memories of bronze-medal finish, Belton senior Hankamer eyes 6A state crown
CHAMPIONSHIP QUEST: Belton senior golfer Dallas Hankamer, shown practicing at Wildflower Country Club on Tuesday, will try to complete his high school career with a championship when he competes in the UIL Class 6A state tournament Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. The Texas A&M signee contended for the individual title in his 2019 state debut at Legacy Hills, where he shared the first-round lead with a 3-under-par 69 but shot a final-round 71 to finish in third place, one stroke out of a playoff for the crown. District 12-6A champion Hankamer, the third brother in his family to win a medal in the state golf tournament, tees off at 8 a.m. Monday on the par-5 10th hole. Temple junior Daniel Moon also will compete as a medalist in the 72-player field. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Dallas Hankamer comes across as an easygoing young man who doesn't take life or himself too seriously.
However, his happy-go-lucky, chilled-out persona belies one very important thing about Belton's standout senior golfer: Hankamer is a hard-edged competitor who expects a lot from himself and his golf game.
It's been nearly two years since Hankamer as a sophomore tied for third place in the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state tournament at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown.
Although Hankamer – who already had verbally committed to Texas A&M at that point – was proud to earn a bronze medal in his state debut, his overriding emotions following the final round were frustration and disappointment.
An excellent short game helped him share the first-round lead after shooting a 3-under-par 69, then he struck the ball beautifully from the to green during the next day's final round. But his putting wasn't nearly as sharp as it was the previous day, with a pair of three-putts and four missed birdie opportunities from 10 feet proving costly on his scorecard.
As it turned out, another 69 would have made Hankamer the individual state champion by one stroke, and a 70 would have sent him into a three-man, sudden-death playoff for the title. But even after finishing with a birdie on the par-5 18th hole, Hankamer had to sign his card for a 71 and a 4-under 140 total that shared third place.
Wearing the bronze medal around his neck that afternoon, a disappointed Hankamer thoughtfully discussed what might have been.
“I definitely had a good tournament, but I'm pretty frustrated right now with all the chances I had and how good I was hitting it today,” he said. “I'll definitely remember this, and hopefully I come back stronger.”
Nearly two years later, Hankamer definitely has remembered that experience and come back stronger – not only mentally but also physically, as he's added 10 to 15 pounds to reach approximately 170 on his still-lanky 6-foot-2 frame. In November he officially signed with Texas A&M, where he'll join former Belton teammate William Paysse on the Aggies squad later this year, and he turned 19 in February.
It comes as no surprise that Hankamer's memories from the 2019 state tournament – a stellar performance that fell just short of the championship – continue to motivate him as he seeks greater heights.
“It was definitely disappointment, because the second day I felt like I hit it so well that I really could have almost run away with it a little bit if I could've gotten a few putts to fall,” Hankamer, the District 12-6A individual champion, recalled on Tuesday morning at Wildflower Country Club, where he has a part-time weekend job. “But it is what it is. At least I've got another shot at it this year.”
And that's the most important thing. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out high school golf's district, regional and state tournaments in 2020, so Hankamer didn't have an opportunity to return to the state tournament and shoot to win the title as a junior after contending for it as a precocious sophomore.
Because of ongoing issues related to the pandemic, Hankamer didn't know during the early part of this school year if he would even have an opportunity to compete in the state tournament as a senior.
“I really wasn't sure. I was just glad we got to play it this year and give me one more chance at it,” said Hankamer, who will begin his second state tournament on Monday, back at Legacy Hills. He'll tee off in the first round at 8 a.m., starting on the par-5 10th hole along with Katy's Reese Tortone and San Antonio Johnson's Jackson Hymer. The final round is Tuesday.
Hankamer and Temple junior Daniel Moon – the 12-6A runner-up and a first-time state qualifier – are two of the 12 medalists in the 72-player field. Moon tees off at 9 a.m. Monday, also on No. 10.
Hankamer shot rounds of 72 and 75 to place fourth individually in the Region II tournament April 19-20 at Bear Ridge in Waco.
With Hankamer watching from the gallery, Moon (73-75) rolled in a 25-foot par putt that helped him win on the second hole of a three-man, sudden-death playoff to earn the final medalist spot.
“I loved to see Daniel make that putt. He actually does that all the time, so I wasn't really surprised,” said Hankamer, who's played a few practice rounds with Moon during the last month. “It was awesome to see him make it out (to state), too."
BACK FOR MORE: After earning third place in the UIL Class 6A state golf tournament as a sophomore in 2019, Belton's Dallas Hankamer didn't have an opportunity to return to state last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he and coach Jim Hellums say likely cost the Tigers a shot to advance to state as a team. This Monday and Tuesday at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Hankamer shoots to add an individual state championship to his list of career achievements before he joins former Belton teammate William Paysse as part of the Texas A&M golf program. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
On the flip side, Moon is a big fan of Hankamer's game, which motivates the Wildcats' standout.
“Dallas hits it high and hits it extremely far. It's insane,” the Temple junior said Wednesday afternoon at Sammons Golf Links. “He's got such a good swing and such a powerful swing for a guy who's not necessarily built. He's tall and he knows how to hit it far. It's cool to watch. If he gets his putter going, it's insane how low he can go. He's just a really good player.”
Hankamer returns to the state tournament with the maturity and confidence of a player who's highly accomplished not only against high school competition but also on the American Junior Golf Association and Texas Legends Junior Tour circuits.
Because of that, winning the state championship and the gold medal is the only thing on his mind.
“That's obviously the ultimate goal, is to win it. As long as I give myself a chance coming down the back nine the second day, I feel like I should have a good chance to win it,” said Hankamer, who shot a 3-under 141 total to win the 12-6A title at Stonetree in Killeen, where Moon was the runner-up. “I feel like my game is where I want it right now. It's just a matter of going out there and playing like I know how to.”
Longtime Belton golf coach Jim Hellums believes that Hankamer is primed to play his best golf with a state championship at stake at Legacy Hills.
“First of all, Dallas was pretty good as a sophomore. Obviously kids grow up, and now he's more like what he'll be in his first year at A&M,” said Hellums, whose Tigers team placed eighth in the Region II tournament after winning the 12-6A crown. “He's more mature and now he probably wouldn't have those couple of three-putts that probably cost him the state title (in 2019).
“He has matured as a player. He knows when he needs to be conservative and when he should be aggressive. He knows what cost him two years ago and he'll be better prepared this time. Obviously there's a lot of good players in 6A, but he's as good as any of them, like Andrew was.”
Hellums was referring to Andrew Paysse, who as a Belton junior in 2013 captured the 5A individual state championship at Morris Williams in Austin. Paysse, who went on to a four-year golf career at Texas A&M, began a run of Belton sending medalists to the state tournament.
Matthew Lawyer advanced as a senior in 2014, William Paysse – Andrew's younger brother – tied for 19th place at Legacy Hills as a sophomore in 2016 and then Hankamer finished in third at state as a sophomore in 2019. Including Hankamer's return this year, that's five state medalists in nine years for the Tigers.
Hankamer is carrying on not only a Belton tradition but also a family tradition. In 2019 he became the third Hankamer brother to earn a state medal in golf. Oldest brother Dane Hankamer was the 2A individual state champion for Salado in 2013, and one year later he and Dalton Hankamer led the Eagles to the 2A state title.
Dane played golf at Air Force and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Dalton, the only left-handed golfer among the three brothers, played his final two high school seasons at Belton. He played two years at the University of San Diego and three years at Texas State, finishing his college career this spring. He's now planning to play golf as a professional.
“Dallas has exceptional athletic ability and could've played quite a few different sports,” Hellums said about Hankamer, who played basketball, football and soccer before he decided to focus on golf in high school. “He started playing golf really early, and with two brothers in front of him he learned from a lot of their knowledge.”
Although golf primarily is an individual sport, Hankamer enjoys the team aspect of it. Advancing to the state tournament as a team has eluded Belton during Hellums' 14-year run as its head coach. Both Hankamer and Hellums believe that the 2020 Tigers had the capability of qualifying for state out of Region II, but the pandemic meant that they never had that opportunity. Joining Hankamer on that squad were seniors Blake Payne, Trent Tepera, Ruffin White and Peyton Woytek and then-junior A.J. So.
“It was definitely disappointing, because we had a lot of seniors on the team and we felt like we had a pretty good chance of making it to state,” Hankamer said. “They were pretty disappointed as well.”
Alas, the positive vibe of team support lives on in the form of a Twitter feed called DallasTracker, which Woytek started in May 2019 to post updates on Hankamer's progress throughout the state tournament. Hankamer himself is not really a big Twitter guy, but his return to state as a senior means that Woytek, now a freshman at Texas A&M-Galveston, will have DallasTracker fired up on Monday and Tuesday to highlight his former teammate's quest for a state championship.
During this school year, Hankamer has chosen to use a remote learning program, which he said helps give him the flexibility to study when he needs to and to hone his golf game when he wants to. He's enrolled in the Texas Bioscience Institute Middle College program through Temple College and already will have two years' worth of college credits when he moves later this summer to Texas A&M, where he plans to study business or sports management.
SOPHOMORE SUCCESS: Belton golfer Dallas Hankamer nearly won the Class 6A individual state championship as a sophomore in 2019, recording a 4-under-par 140 total for two rounds that left him in third place and only one shot out of a first-place playoff at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown. The Texas A&M signee returns to Legacy Hills this Monday and Tuesday, aiming to add a 6A state gold medal to the bronze medal he earned two years ago. (File photo by Greg Wille)
As for the development of his golf game, Hankamer said he's bringing more strength and consistency back to Legacy Hills than he had when he departed the Georgetown course with that bittersweet bronze medal two years ago.
“Definitely I feel like I've gained a couple clubs (of distance) and I've got a lot more control over my swing,” said Hankamer, who prefers to draw the ball from right to left but also is comfortable fading it from left to right when it's called for. “I don't have as big of a big miss as I used to. I used to have a big miss, usually to the right. I've kind of gotten that controlled to where instead of 40 feet, it's maybe 20 feet with a 7-iron.
“My chipping has always been I think my biggest strength, but it's just a matter of rolling in putts consistently.”
Hankamer's short game skills were on full display during his first-round 69 at state in 2019, though his putting faltered at key moments the next day.
One hole that still stands out in his mind at Legacy Hills is the par-5 seventh, where he knocked his long second shot onto the green to set up an eagle opportunity. But his 25-foot putt came up 2½ feet short and he surprisingly missed the next putt for birdie, walking off with a deflating par. In hindsight, that uncharacteristic mistake essentially cost him at least a shot to get into a playoff for the individual title.
“I played really well that week and definitely have good memories there. But definitely that (short birdie) putt . . . it wasn't a good time (to miss it),” said Hankamer, who's “dialed in” his swing in recent lessons with his Waco-based instructor, Ray Lamb.
Hellums has high marks for Hankamer's all-around game.
“His irons and putter, that's what carries him in most cases,” Hellums said. “His swing might not be as fundamentally sound (as some other players'), but it works and it stands up under pressure.”
Hankamer certainly dealt with pressure in the Region II tournament at Bear Ridge, especially on the back nine of the second round.
“I'd say for 27 holes it was my A game. I just had a really rough nine-hole stretch, the first nine holes the second day,” he said. “I actually needed to shoot 1-under on my back nine holes (to earn a state berth). I went birdie-bogey-par-par on the last four holes and snuck in there barely.”
Hankamer recently competed in a U.S. Open local qualifier at Escondido in Horseshoe Bay and plans to enter upcoming qualifiers for the Texas Amateur and Texas State Open, along with some AJGA events. His last hurrah in high school golf comes at Legacy Hills, a course where he's accumulated significant experience.
“I'd say you definitely have to keep it in the fairway there, because you'll have a lot of short irons in and a lot of birdie opportunities,” Hankamer said. “I'll obviously have to see what it's like in my practice round (on Sunday), because I've gained quite a bit of distance since I was there my sophomore year.”
Now, the only thing remaining for the older, wiser and stronger Hankamer is to try to play his best golf for two days and chase the state championship that narrowly eluded him two years ago in Georgetown.
“Monday it's just a matter of staying in the tournament. You can't really win it on Day 1,” Hankamer said. “If I have a good shot coming down to the last five holes Tuesday, I feel like I've had a successful week.”