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BERKLEY — The Berkley High boys golf team took its swings at the driving range in Royal Oak March 11, the second official day of practice.
The balls landed without a thud in a semi-blanket of snow, but this was nothing new for senior Anthony Jackson.
Jackson has been diligently working on his swing all winter in the comforts of his local driving ranges.
“In basketball, they call it a gym rat. In golf, he’s a range rat,” Berkley coach Scott Baltes said of Jackson. “He’s always there, hitting balls and willing to do the extra to make him better.”
Jackson leads the returning starters for the Bears, who finished 8-4 overall last year, third in the Oakland Activities Association White Division, and qualified for a Division 2 regional.
Jackson is the unquestionable No. 1, averaging 36.9 for nine holes last year. Seniors Curtis Carne and Adam Israel return after each averaging 40, along with junior Donny Karle and his 41 average.
“I think this year, we will be pretty strong,” Jackson said. “We have some guys that are back from the team last year, and I think they can perform.”
Baltes said he has eight other players of equal talent all vying for the No. 5 and No. 6 spots.
“I’m looking forward to this season, and the younger players that are coming in, I’ve heard a lot of good things about them,” Baltes said. “You never know what can happen over a year’s time. Someone could really blossom from that group and really shine.”
The Bears are, again, in the OAA White, where the coach said Farmington High and Groves are the favorites, but he’s not counting his squad out.
“I think we’ll give anyone in our league a run,” he said.
Berkley also qualified for the Division 1 Oakland County Tournament later this season after winning the D-2 tournament a season ago. Each season, the top two teams from D-2 swap with the bottom two teams of D-1. This is Berkley’s first appearance in D-1 in Baltes’ 12 years of coaching.
“Moving up will be fun. You have all the big boys in D-1,” Baltes said of the tournament. “Coming in as the winner of D-2, it’s going to be nice to play with some of these stronger teams.”
The Bears are also looking to make a state-final appearance. The top six teams, and top six players not on qualifying teams, move on from districts to regionals, then the top three teams, and top three non-exempt individuals from there, move on to the finals. Baltes said he hasn’t had anyone or team in the final yet.
Last season, Berkley made it to the regional level, and Jackson missed qualifying as an individual for the final by two strokes.
“It’s really in Anthony’s hands. If he plays smart golf, to his strengths, I really think he has a strong possibility of making it,” Baltes said. “He’s just a real smooth player. His swing, if you look at it, it’s text book. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and he loves the game. To me, that’s one of the biggest things. He’s always pushing himself.”
Jackson said it’s the pressure and competition that draws him to the game, while adding that he’s aiming to win the state championship.
“A lot of people will say you can’t do this or that, but then you get a chance in golf to show them,” he said.