The Port Arthur News
After more than a year of intense attention from college golf coaches across the country, Port Neches-Groves’ junior star Braden Bailey announced Wednesday that he plans to attend Baylor.
“I just felt Baylor was the right fit for me,” said Bailey, less than 24 hours after tying for 6th in the Texas 4A state tournament in Austin. “It’s a great school academically, a lot of really good things are happening there, they are building some nice facilities, Waco’s going to be a good place to be and I think Coach (Greg) Priest can help make me a better player.”
Bailey’s verbal commitment ends a football-like recruiting saga that saw him arguably get more college attention than any golfer to attend a Southeast Texas high school. Some 30 schools, including the likes of UCLA, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Arkansas were in contact with Bailey, but the final decision came down to the Lone Star State trio of Lamar, North Texas and Baylor.
Former PN-G and Lamar great Chris Stroud, and Cardinal coach Brian White, came after Bailey hard, but it had become apparent to them that Baylor was in the driver’s seat. Bailey said one of the toughest things for him to do will be to call Stroud and let him know that he selected Baylor.
“It’s going to be difficult after all Chris did for me,” he said. “I took everything he told me to heart, but in the end I just felt Baylor was the right fit for me. I’m sure he will understand.”
Bailey has been building quite a resume the past three years. He’s the three-time District 20-4A champion, has a T7 and a T6 in the last two 4A state tournaments, placed second by a stroke in the Region III, 4A tourney and is about to be named to the 4A All-State team for the second time.
Beyond the high school level, his most impressive accomplishment was winning the Legends Junior Tour’s Texas Cup Invitational last fall in Fort Worth against a 78-man field that included top players from eight states and seven foreign countries. He put together back-to-back rounds of one-under-par 70 at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth.
He’s also had a pair of top 5 finishes in prestigious American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events. One of his best AJGA showings was a T6 over Arizona State University’s Karsten Course last summer, after rounds of 73-70-67. His closing 67 was the low score of the day in a field of 57 players, and ratcheted up the attention he was getting from college coaches.
Also high on Bailey’s list of accomplishments was a T8 in the 2012 Champions Tour Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Playing with Champions Tour pro Dick Mast, Bailey shot rounds of 79 at Pebble Beach, 71 at Del Monte Country Club and a closing 74 at Pebble Beach, helping Mast to best-ball scores of 68-65-68.
Both Mast and professional caddy Craig Johnson were blown away by the poise and shot-making they saw out of a kid who was still over a month from starting his sophomore year of high school.
“I’m almost at a loss for words,” said Johnson, who had spent the previous nine years caddying in Pebble Beach events. “Braden is an unbelievable young man. He has so much charisma, is so very polite and is a remarkable player for somebody 15-years-old. He’s definitely something special. The golf world needs to keep an eye on him.”
Bailey said a huge load has been taken off his shoulders with the Baylor announcement.
“The process was much more overwhelming than I expected,” he said. “This takes a lot of pressure off and will be one less thing for me to worry about. I know I’ll be a lot more relaxed this summer, not having to try to impress college coaches. I can just concentrate on my game and getting better.
“My game is in decent shape at this point. My short game is really strong, but I need to work on the long game. My goals now are to win an AJGA tournament, to help our team get back to state next year and to win the 4A individual championship.”