SENIOR SERIES: A profile look at triumphs and struggles experienced by some Aurora senior prep athletes in the time of the coronavirus pandemic:
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
Just a couple of years ago, Dakota Makinen knew next to nothing about golf.
The game has turned out to be the golden ticket for the future for the 18-year-old Aurora resident.
Before the coronavirus pandemic threw everything into chaos, Makinen became one of the 2020 winners of the Chick Evans Scholarship, which annually goes to a number of graduating high school senior caddies who demonstrate excellence on and off the golf course. The full-ride scholarship — named for famed Chicago amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans Jr. — has provided for the higher educational needs of more than 11,000 caddies since its inception in 1930.
“I started off literally knowing almost nothing about golf; the day before (caddy) training, I was begging my dad to show me which one was the putter and which was the driver,” Makinen told the Sentinel.
“I picked up most of my knowledge in tournaments and high stakes moments where players will talk out loud. The other caddies were super nice to me when I came in and they would also fill me in on lingo and jargon, so that helped, too.”
Even after two years and 175 loops (rounds) she’s caddied — plus a few years watching her dad, Ben, play on a recreational basis — she still considers herself far from an expert on the game. But Makinen has mastered the mental part of the job, which has made her an often-requested caddy at the Denver Country Club.
“I think it is very much about being able to quickly assess someone,” she said. “Each player is unique and individual in their own way, so you have to approach them differently. It’s all about human connection and understanding right of the bat what kind of person they are and what they need.”
The Denver Country Club has a tradition of caddies selected for the Evans Scholarship and Makinen continued the tradition. The scholarship (awarded by the Western Golf Association) is estimated to be worth $120,000, as it covers four years of tuition at the University of Colorado in Boulder as well as lodging at the Evans Scholarship House on campus.
Encouraged to apply for the scholarship by those at her home course, Makinen went through the application process and waited for an answer, which came in the form of an envelope that arrived at her house in February. Her dad took a picture of it and texted it to her while she was helping with auditions for a production at her school, the Denver School of the Arts.
When she got home in the evening, the congratulations letter she found on the inside literally changed her life.
“My dad was more emotional than I was,” Makinen recalled. “It didn’t really register at first, then we just started jumping around and celebrating. … I am absolutely thrilled to be a recipient of the scholarship. It’s an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders. My dad is a single dad and a musician, so college was going to be a stretch.
“This makes a world of difference in our lives.”
The coronavirus has kept Makinen off the golf course and brought an early end to her school, but it has taught her a new way of looking at things in the future.
“I think what the pandemic has taught me is really to appreciate each day and fully live in the moments,” she said. “I’ve also seen more people practicing love and checking on each other. My neighbor called me over the other day and asked if we have enough groceries. My biggest hope is that everyone will take these things forward after this is over.”
Two Regis Jesuit High School students — Giovanny Gordillo of Cherry Hills Country Club and Fenton Dowling of Meridian Golf Club — join Makinen as locals among the list of 13 Colorado winners of the Evans Scholarship.
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