June 27, 2012 - Seven. That's the magic number for 2012 Oxford High School graduate and hot-shot golfer Nicholas Hocker. Of all high school golfers in the state of Michigan, Hocker ranks in the top seven.
Nick Hocker, a 2012 Oxford High graduate, ranked seventh in the state among his peers. Photo by Lance Farrell. (click for larger version)
Hocker reached this pinnacle when he represented OHS at the state golf tournament held at Grand Valley State on June 15 and 16.
Let's rewind the clock a bit: It has been a busy couple of weeks for Mr. Hocker. On May 31, the Wildcats went to Bald Mountain for the MHSAA district tournament. "It was a really rainy wet day, kinda miserable. I shot 77 and didn't think I was going to make the cut, but got lucky and made it," the Wildcat all-star said.
Luck or no, Hocker then moved on to the Regional Tournament held June 7 at Boulder Pointe where, as Hocker contrasted, it "was a good day. Everything went pretty well, and I played solid."
Hocker's humility is misleading at this point, because that score wasn't just "solid"—this as the second highest score at the regional tourney, just behind Traverse City's Gates Mullen who took the regional medal. More importantly, as one of the top three scorers from a non-qualifying team, Hocker's outstanding play advanced him to the state tournament
Then, on June 15-16, Hocker went to the MHSAA State Finals. Again, the Wildcat linkster said, we had "great conditions. It was sunny and warm both days. I shot a 74 the first day and 76 the second day," scores well below his season average.
Hocker laughed when his top seven state ranking was pointed out, and admitted "It's kinda cool. It's great to think about, but, at the same time, I know I could have done a lot better out there. There were a few putts that lipped out that could have fallen and just a few small things that could have happened, could have gone my way, but they didn't."
Hocker's involvement with golf began at a very early age. "My Grandpa took me out to mess around when I was four years old, but I got serious when I was about 12 or 13," he said.
By that point, Hocker's talent was evident to all, so he began competitive play, participating in a Friday morning league at Oxford Hills while barely a teen. With a self-deprecating laugh, Hocker claimed he came in second each of his two years with the Friday morning league.
Looking back on his high school play, he credits his time at OHS for providing consistency to his game. He now sees a much greater reliability in "the way I hit the ball, what I can do with the ball, shot types and what-not." As a Wildcat, all facets of his game improved, he said; when pressed, he claimed his work on the green as his greatest strength as a golfer. "Right now it's putting, for sure," Hocker said of his strong suit.
Coach Terry Kelley deserves a lot of credit for his success, Hocker said. "At state, he helped me to keep a clear mind and try to focus, and to not let small things get into my head. For instance, I was playing a really good round, but then I tripled a round and I was furious. He came and talked to me and just calmed me down and I went out and (scored par) on the next few holes. It turned things back around a little bit."
As he reminisced about his evolution as a golfer, Hocker made special note of scoring a hole-in-one while playing with his father. Hocker recounted the moment with satisfaction: "It was the 17th hole up north, a par three, uphill. I hit my tee shot, and it looked like a decent shot. I walked up and didn't see it anywhere, so I walked all the way around the green and couldn't find it. I thought it must have been way over. But I looked in the hole and it was in there."
He includes attending the 2011 state tournament and his individual performance at state in 2012 as the more recent highlights of his time as a Wildcat.
With a 3.69 GPA and four letters in golf under his belt, Hocker now advances to Adrian College, where, when he's not starring on the Bulldog's varsity golf squad, he plans to study pre-dentistry. After that, perhaps on to the University of Detroit-Mercy to specialize in orthodontics.
Even without trophies and victories, Hocker said he'd still head to the links. "Golfing is like paradise for me; it's just a good escape. Whenever I'm frustrated, or annoyed with people I can just go to a golf course—it's peaceful," the Wildcat All-Stater said.