Duke has been his dream school for quite a while.
Jake Shuman has owned a Blue Devils shirt since age 9, and has loyally followed the Durham, N.C., university’s men’s basketball team.
So when the 17-year-old Needham High senior, the defending Division 1 state individual golf champion, began thinking about college programs as a sophomore, the storied Atlantic Coast Conference school was on his list of 35 possibilities.
He was forced to wait, however, until the following September — a time frame stipulated by NCAA recruiting guidelines — before being able to gauge which programs were most interested in him.
“The three schools that I really thought it was between were Northwestern, Maryland, and University of Virginia,” Shuman said. “Duke was always my No. 1, but I thought it was too big of a reach . . . being such a great golf program.”
A phone call last November, from Duke coach Jamie Green , however, shifted his expectations.
Shuman said he talked with Green “for about an hour and a half. At the end of the call he said: ‘There’s a spot on the team. We don’t know what the scholarship is yet, but there’s a spot.’ ”
‘As much as golf is an individual sport for 10 months of the year, these two months it’s all about the team.’
Shuman readily admits he knew his decision even before hanging up the phone. But adhering to the wishes of his parents, Jim and Ann, he waited a month, and completed “probably five different pros and cons sheets,”before making a verbal commitment to play for Duke.
In exactly a month — on Nov. 13 — Shuman will sign his official letter of intent.
“You try to find the best combination of academics and golf,” Shuman said. “I mean, Duke was the best one I could think of that’s within reach,’’ even though it was still a reach, he said. “You could look at Stanford, but I knew I wasn’t going to go to Stanford.”
Shuman growing up an avid college basketball fan — hence the Duke gear — was a byproduct of his 6-foot-5 father, who played collegiately at Buffalo State. It was also his dad who introduced him to golf at age 3, and was his first coach.
Gradually, Shuman’s game developed. At 10, he qualified for the US Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst in North Carolina.
By age 13, Shuman was established as a top performer on the New England junior circuit, also known as the US Challenge Cup.
But it was not until July 2011, when he won the Killington Junior Golf Championship, his first national event in the American Junior Golf Association, that something clicked.
“I think when he won the AJGA at Killington in Vermont, that did something for Jake,” said his swing coach for the past three years, Jeff Hay , of Core Golf Academy in Winter Haven, Fla. “I think that’s sort of like the PGA Tour of junior golf, and he won at that level. From there he just seemed to elevate his game. That gave him a lot of confidence, and then he qualified for the US Junior Amateur.”
The past two years, Shuman has qualified for the US Junior Amateur, advancing to match play both times. He finished in the top 32 last year, and the top 64 this summer.
Under Hay’s tutelage, the 6-2, 190-pound Shuman has focused on enhancing his skill level in all areas of his game.
With his college destination settled, Shuman opted to stay local this summer — outside of traveling to a few carefully selected tournaments — and hone his putting and short game, including wedges and overall swing. He followed a specific practice regimen collaboratively constructed by Hay and Green in April.
“Jake has a ton of game, he has a great head on his shoulders, and he’s got an awesome family behind him,” Hay said.
Along with becoming more consistent, Shuman has also sought a better understanding of his swing and how it affects ball flight.
Mentally, he has worked to improve his course management, so that when he hits the ball well his score is as low as possible.
Through the first 12 matches of this fall’s high school season, the results have been noticeable.
Shuman has dropped his nine-hole scoring average from a season ago by nearly three shots, to 34.58. He was also a cumulative 11-under par in his last four matches as of Tuesday.
“He can drive 300 yards, give or take, and know what it is,” Needham High’s golf coach Adam Cole said. “But he’s also so consistent with it that he can hit a par 4 that’s 300 or fewer yards. He can reach it in one. That’s given him some great birdie opportunities. And the par 5s, he can reach a lot of them in two shots, which has been a really big advantage,” said Cole, in his fourth year coaching the Rockets.
It’s nothing new to his teammates, especially fellow cocaptain and classmate Mike Barnes , who has watched Shuman for four years.
“Jake is honestly one of the best juniors I have ever played with,” said Needham’s No. 2 golfer. “He’s significantly better than most of the kids he plays against. There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s going to win it.”
With the state tournament looming on Oct. 28 at Black Swan Country Club in Georgetown, however, Shuman is focused on more than just successfully defending his title.
“The team winning the states, not just me,” he said. “That’s the goal. As much as golf is an individual sport for 10 months of the year, these two months it’s all about the team. I think my senior year it’d be pretty cool to see the team win.”Paul Lazdowski can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @plaxdow.