At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Wainwright Ritchie looks like a defensive lineman. But when it comes to sports, the only things he is tackling these days are greens and fairways.
The three-time all-conference Concord senior golfer teed off his season with a second place finish at the Irish Creek High School Invitational last month. He also finished second in two events last week. He hoped to contend for a South Piedmont Conference championship and possibly much more.
Growing up, Ritchie says his size always naturally drew him to sports like football and wrestling. But once he reached eighth grade, he realized contact sports were not his forte.
His parents, Marshall and Anna Ritchie, asked him if he wanted to play golf instead.
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"I said sure," Wainwright recalls.
Ritchie started playing the summer before his freshman season and was a quick study. He became Concord's top-flight golfer only months after picking up the sport.
In his first season, Ritchie says he consistently shot nine-hole rounds of 42. At regionals at Asheville Municipal Golf Course, he shot an 18-hole score of 87 and did not make the cut to advance to the state tournament.
The following summer, Ritchie's interest started to spike. He began playing local tournaments on the National Junior Golf Tour.
"I did it just to get my feet wet," said Ritchie. "It was a struggle, I was still new to the game. But I don't think I broke 80 that summer. I didn't even get a top 10 finish that summer."
During the 2008-09 school year, Ritchie played sparingly in the AAU-sanctioned Triad Golf Today Junior Tour. His game was improving and it carried over into his high school season.
With the Spiders, he says his stroke average dropped to 40.5 and he qualified for regionals again. At Charlotte's Pine Island Country Club, Ritchie duplicated his previous regional score of 87 and again failed to qualify for states.
Ritchie started to employ the help of a couple of golf instructors in the summer prior to his junior year. With tweaks to his swing being made, Ritchie started to appreciate the technicalities that make better golfers.
He played in his first statewide tournament that summer, the Dogwood State Junior at his home course of Cabarrus Country Club. Ritchie shot 77 in both rounds and missed the cut by a couple strokes. Still, "the rush of competitive golf" started to tantalize him after that.
Playing as a junior, Ritchie's high school stroke average dropped to 39. His regional score of 78 at Statesville Country Club was a nine-stroke improvement over his previous regional scores, but he still missed qualifying for the state tournament by a couple strokes.
Ritchie hit a groove last summer when he carded a personal-best 73 at Cabarrus Country Club. A few weeks later, he improved on that by six strokes at qualifiers for a statewide tournament at Ballantyne Country Club. In late July, Ritchie finished in third place at the Rowan Junior Open in his age group.
"I felt like I was playing pretty well in these tournaments," said Ritchie. "I was doing something right."
In addition to his Irish Creek Invitational score this season, Ritchie has averaged a 39.1 through the Spiders' regular season. First-year Concord coach Howard Bertram has been impressed with his senior leader.
"I think he manages his tempo very well," said Bertram. "He's beginning to manage his emotions better, which is huge in golf. Just in the last 12-15 months, there's been a huge change."
One of Ritchie's inspirations over the last few years has been his uncle Allen Ritchie, who was a standout golfer at the University of Alabama in the 1970s. Wainwright will follow in his uncle's footsteps by playing collegiate golf. He signed a national letter of intent to play at Catawba next year.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer for Cabarrus News. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.