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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Jack Burke big name in golf again

He’s got the name, the game, the frame and is steadily earning the fame to barge into the conversation about the best young golfers to ever come out of Southeast Texas.

Meet Little Cypress-Mauriceville sophomore Jack Burke, who is literally and figuratively the next big thing in area golf circles. Named the Boys Player of the Year at Tuesday night’s Babe Zaharias Junior Golf Awards dinner, Burke is already high on the list of many top college golf coaches.

At 6-feet-2, 245 pounds, requiring a size 16 shoe and projected to stretch out to 6-6, Burke is a unique combination of power, touch, on-course discipline and ambition for someone 16 years old. People in the know talk in terms of “sky-is-the-limit” potential.

Named after Texas golf icon Jack Burke Jr., winner of the 1956 Masters and a 2000 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, young Jack relishes his dad’s naming choice and uses it as motivation to make the still kicking 96-year-old Champions Golf Club co-founder proud of him.

“It is pretty cool to be named after somebody who was such a great golfer,” Burke said. “I have met Mr. Burke and had some good conversations with him. He always tells me keep up the good work. It’s going to take some really hard work to live up to that name.”

Burke’s record in junior golf circles is almost Tigeresque.

Since 2010, he’s won 124 of 179 junior events and 141 of 222 overall tourneys in which he participated. He recently added the 4A state championship and backed it up by placing eighth in Boys 15-18 in a loaded international field at the Texas Masters in San Antonio.

That earned him an invitation to the National High School Championships later this month in Orlando. It also boosted him to the No. 5 ranking among junior players in Texas and to No. 54 nationally.

Burke is also an exceptional student, though he admits to making his first ever B (Algebra 2) this past semester. In addition, he’s a well-versed student of those who have blazed the trail in Southeast Texas golf.

Because of age, he relates most to Baylor star Braden Bailey, but he is also tuned in to current PGA players Chris Stroud, Andrew Landry and Shawn Stefani. And he’s a huge fan of the late Bruce Lietzke — so much so that he vows to keep competing in the Lietzke Junior played ever summer in Beaumont.

“I got to meet Mr. Lietzke at what was the last time he was able to attend the tournament,” Burke said. “He talked to me about my game. I think he saw a lot of potential. He told me he wanted me to win his tournament more than once. So that’s one of my goals.

“I want to win it three more times. I am going to be playing more of a state and national schedule but I am going to keep playing in the Lietzke.”

Burke was nudged into golf at a very young age by dad Aaron, a long time assistant coach at LCM. Aaron put Nerf clubs in his son’s hands early on, always had him on the golf cart when playing at Sunset Grove Country Club in Orange and has done his best to avoid being an overbearing Little League dad.

“Jack had a natural swing at a young age,” says Aaron. “I have coached for 24 years and didn’t want to cross that line of being too hands-on with him. I just wanted to be dad and to put him in position to learn and get better if he wanted to really get serious about the game.”

To that end, Aaron has seen that Jack was exposed to the best area instruction he could get. It started with Todd Ross and went all the way to Mitch Duncan at Babe Zaharias.

Austin Williams came into the picture a couple of years ago at Games People Play in Beaumont (now 5 Under Golf Center), developed close ties with father and son and worked with Jack until he felt a more elite teacher was needed.

Enter former Lamar University golf coach Brian White in Houston.

White, of course, played a key role in developing Stroud and has worked with other PGA Tour and Champions Tour players.

Beyond exposing Jack to top instruction, dad is making serious sacrifices so that his son can play the ultra competitive and expensive national AJGA Junior Tour and the Lone Star Junior Tour. On top of coaching duties, Aaron’s driving a double bus route, works for Williams at 5 Under Golf and takes on various odd jobs.

“I am well aware of the sacrifices he’s making to help me get to the next level,” Jack declares. “I wouldn’t be half of what I am without his help. We have such a great bond. He keeps me going, he keeps me positive.”

Those who have tutored Burke quickly saw a special talent and project him as a potential big-time player.

“I have known Jack since he was 7 or 8,” said Duncan. “He was always a standout. He was so much taller and could hit it so much father than kids his age. Plus he had so much natural ability as far as understanding how to play and get the ball in the hole. He’s matured so much mentally. He’s on a great track.”

“I love Jack as a truly humble person and a great golfer,” said Williams, a former college standout and eight-time Beaumont city champion. “I have been around a lot of talented guys like Stroud, Landry and Stefani and it was obvious he had something really special.

“For his age, I’ve never been around anyone that disciplined on the golf course.”

Burke underscored that discipline on the way to winning the state championship. Not satisfied with his driver control, he hit 2-iron and 3-iron off the tee most of the time.

“I think I hit driver five times in 36 holes,” he said. “I can hit my 2-iron 240 to 250 and the ground was so hard it was getting out 270. It rarely moves much off line. I felt like hitting it off the tee gave me the best chance to win.”

So who taught you to hit that shot, Jack?

“It’s the Tiger Woods stinger,” he said. “I taught myself after watching Tiger hit it. I know I am a little young to be a Tiger fan, but I am. When he won the Masters, it showed me you never give up no matter what life throws your way. It was just crazy for him to come back at 43 and win a major.”

Nobody was more elated about Burke and his 2-iron stinger in the state tournament than White.

“I was so impressed that he had the discipline to do that and win with it as a sophomore,” said the guy who once coached Lamar to a third place NCAA finish. “It just speaks volumes about him. He’s such a quality kid and such an amazing talent. He is just going to get better and better.

“What I am trying to do with him is build a more technically sound overall game. It’s hard to compare him to Stroud or Landry or Stefani at that age. Their short games were probably more mature. but he is so strong and can hit it so far. He has such an advantage with his size.

“The key going forward is competing against big time amateur competition and playing tough courses. The sky is truly the limit for him.”

Meantime, the fact Burke was even on hand to accept his Player of the Year Award Tuesday night tells you how grounded he is.

To be at the awards ceremony, he had to skip a major event in Dallas — the 54-hole Lone Star Junior Tour Byron Nelson Championship. The decision had to be made despite the fact there were no guarantees he’d win the Zaharias award.

“I wanted to be there,” he said. “That award has been a big deal for me for years. I saw Braden Bailey win it three times. I thought I had a good chance to win because of the year I’ve had. But just supporting that event and Southeast Texas golf means a lot to me.”

Over at Champions Golf Club a namesake legend who knew Babe Zaharias has to be smiling.

Thursday: Golf notes