Michael Sanders believes he was meant to play golf.
From the time he could walk, when he was only 2, Sanders has had a club in his hand. He was attached to a putter that was cut down to size to fit him.
“I actually had one of my patients, who is a golf pro, give me that putter, because he knew how excited we were about having Michael,” said Michael’s mother, Susan Sanders, a dermatologist. “He was always carrying that putter around the house and he wouldn’t put it down. From the very beginning, he has always just gravitated to golf.”
Sanders, 13, now an eighth-grader at Cannon School, has established himself as one of the top golfers in the country in his age group. He’s ranked No.1 in the state in the class of 2018 by juniorgolfscoreboard.com and is No.38 in the nation.
Sanders, who lives at River Run Country Club in Davidson, began playing competitively when he was 7. He shot an even-par 36 over nine holes in his first tournament round in Hendersonville, tying for the win, and shot his first under-par round (a 2-under 34) in his second tournament, at Highland Lake, near Asheville.
Sanders also beat his father, James, an 8-handicap golfer, for the first time when he was just 10 years old. Sanders, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound eighth-grader, has a personal-best 67 at Mid-Pines Country Club in Pinehurst and averages between 270 and 280 yards off the tee.
“I don’t feel like I can ever get enough golf,” said Michael Sanders, who is a PGA Tour fan. “Even if I have a bad day or play bad, 20 minutes later I find myself back on the range working on something. There’s always something new to learn or something you can work on.”
“It’s kind of amazing how Michael has gravitated to golf in every facet, from the game to the clothes to the course to the golf carts, when he was younger,” said James Sanders, who added that he potty trained Michael with golf-related incentives after other things didn’t work.
“He has always loved everything about it. It has been great to see him have so much success in something he loves to do.”
Sanders won a junior tournament against a field of high school freshmen and sophomores this summer, the Golf Pride Junior Championships in Pinehurst.
That victory was just a part of a big spring and summer for Sanders on the junior tour, winning four more tournaments – the Carmel Country Club Junior Invitational, the Callaway Junior World Qualifier in Pittsboro, the Grandover Resort Junior Championship in Greensboro, and the CCNC Junior Masters in Pinehurst.
Sanders won player of the year honors for his work on the Tarheel Golf Foundation, boasting the lowest scoring average – 73.6 per 18-hole round in tournament play.
Already a scratch golfer with a plus-0.5 handicap, Sanders also helped his Cannon Middle School team win the Greater Charlotte Middle School Athletic Association tournament last spring by two strokes over Charlotte Country Day, shooting a 4-under par 32.
“Michael is a great young golfer, but I think what makes him so good is his competitive drive; he loves to compete every day,” said Cannon middle school golf coach Jon Sielsky, who played college golf at Florida Southern and on several mini-professional tours.
“He is mature beyond his years. He knows he is good for his age, but he wants to get a lot better. He is very focused on a specific set of goals that he wants to achieve.”
While Sanders plays all across the country, he says playing for his school with his friends and teammates is just as fun.
Sanders regularly works out with his future teammates, including Cannon’s Noah Edmondson, who has committed to play at Arkansas next year, and Vanderbilt commit Will Gordon, as well as Cougars girls’ team standouts Kate Collom (committed to Samford), Annie Collom and Anna Redding, who have led their team to back-to-back state championships.
“I can’t wait to be a part of the Cannon’s high school team,” Sanders said. “Just to get to play with all of those guys and girls has helped me a lot.”
While Sanders has had much success on the golf course, he is far from being satisfied or content with what he’s accomplished. He works with River Run professional David Ross and Quail Hollow pro Charles Frost to improve each part of his game.
“I know if I shoot a 72 or 73 and win a golf tournament, there is always some kid in California shooting a 67 on the same day,” Sanders said. “So, I’m always thinking of the bigger picture. I feel I have just started and proving what I can do on the golf course. I still have a long way to go.”
Sanders has specific goals in mind in each step along the way, but he says he hopes to earn a scholarship to play on a major NCAA Division I college golf team. He even dreams of a chance to play on the PGA Tour.
“I want to make sure I go to college and get a degree and enjoy everything and not miss anything along the way,” Sanders said. “But I definitely zone out every once in a while and imagine myself playing in the U.S. Open. That would be a dream come true.”
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