Overland senior Joe Slocum poses before finishing his putt, Aug. 6 at Meadow Hills Golf Course in Aurora. Boys golfers opened the new prep sports season with practice on Aug. 5 ahead of the start of the regular season on Aug. 8. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Golfers have enough to worry about on the course, much less the security of their clubs off it.

Overland High School senior Joe Slocum — working his way towards his last chance to qualify for the Class 5A boys state golf tournament — had his clubs stolen out of his car right in front of his house in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.

The theft was puzzling and terribly-timed for Slocum, who had just a short time remaining before the Northern Regional on Sept. 19 at Broadlands G.C., where the fate of his season hung in the balance. Not exactly the time to break in a new set of sticks.

“I was very upset; the first question that came to my mind was, who does that?” Slocum said. “I don’t have problems with anybody at school. It’s still a mystery.”

Slocum picked up a new set of clubs, but ended up with stiffer shafts than he had on his old set. It affected him early on — especially with his ball striking — as he shot an 83 at the final Centennial League tournament of the season. Slocum kept experimenting with different swings and finally found his comfort zone just before regional play.

In his previous trips to regionals, Slocum had to play in predetermined fields that included the Centennial League powerhouses he was so familiar with — chiefly Cherry Creek and Arapahoe — along with Continental League powers such as Regis Jesuit and Heritage.

The loaded fields made it very difficult to qualify for state, but a change in regional format prior to this season — which mixed teams based on their finish in league standings — had Slocum believing he could make it.

“Having Cherry Creek and teams like that in regionals with you makes it really difficult, but I think it’s a lot more fair now,” Slocum said. “When I found that out, it gave me a good confidence boost. I really like playing with those guys, though. They are really good golfers, so it allows me to stay focused and take my game to the next level.”

Buoyed by his chance, Slocum surged to a strong start at regionals and sat even through nine holes and 1-over after 12.

A triple bogey on Hole No. 13 — on which he did his best to avoid a bunker, but ended up in the sand and had trouble getting out of it — briefly shook Slocum, but he parred the next hole and finished up with a 6-over-par 78, which tied him for 11th individually.

Overland coach Bert Dalton — who often has to play with Slocum due to tiny numbers of golfers in the program — proudly watched Slocum become the school’s first state tournament qualifier since Jonathan Park in 2009.

Now that he’s in, Dalton believes Slocum could legitimately finish in the top 25 at state, as he thinks his golfer’s game sets up well for the state course, Aurora’s Murphy Creek G.C.

“He told me a day before regionals that he really liked his new clubs and was starting to get used to them,” Dalton said. “It’s an adjustment, but he’s really simplifying his swing. He’s playing well and hitting it well right now. …I don’t know that he’ll make the top 10, but he could be in the top 25. There’s no reason to believe he can’t go and play well at state.”

Slocum spent two years in the caddy training program at CommonGround G.C. — which was originally to host the state tournament before it was flooded — so he was a little disappointed the tournament had to move, but he’s come to like Murphy Creek over the course of several practice rounds there in the week leading up to state.

The par 3 Hole No. 17 has Slocum wary, but otherwise he’s ready for the challenge.

“Everything is good and straight, so all I’m concerned about is accuracy,” said Slocum, who had an 8:30 a.m. tee time on Sept. 30 in the opening round.

“My goal is to stay focused and take it one shot at a time,” he added. “Right now I’m not too worried about the end result.”

Slocum is also an outstanding baseball player — he and pitcher Dario Villagomez each made first team All-Centennial League in the spring — so he could go that route when it comes to college, but golf might play a role.

He’s applied for an Evans Scholarship, which are given annually to a handful of young caddies around the state that are good for free tuition and housing at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or sports@aurorasentinel.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel

Courtney Oakes is sports Editor and photographer with Sentinel Colorado. A Denver East High School alum. He came to the Sentinel in 2001 and since then has received a number of professional awards from...