CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham freshman Cole Ekert is a living example of how bad life experiences have a strange way of turning positive.
Two years ago, Ekert had his athletic world upended during a spring club soccer game when he was the recipient of a slide tackle that resulted in a broken collarbone. That took him away from sports he normally excelled at such as baseball and lacrosse and put him on the golf course.
"At the time, it seems horrible," Ekert said. "Now that I look back it was a blessing in disguise. I decided to play golf for fun because I was hurt. I remember going down to my beach house (Stone Harbor) and I usually shot 87 or 88 at the local course. I went out and shot a 77, and I'm thinking it must be my career low and I'll never do that again Then the next day I shot 75. From then on that summer I shot all in the 70s and 60s. I got addicted to golf. I have no idea how it happened. I just went out that one day and something clicked and I haven't turned back."
Fast forward to the 2018 Morris County Tournament and Cole braves the pouring rain and cold at the Flanders Valley Golf Club to shoot a 77, good for the fifth-best individual score, which and helped the Cougars gain fourth place as a team.
Cole Ekert is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"Considering it was 40 degrees and pouring rain, I'll take it," said Ekert, who finished five strokes behind two-time MCT champion Pat Ryan of Morristown-Beard.
The exciting part for Chatham and golf coach Todd Ervin, Ekert seems to be just getting started after recovering from a broken finger in the fall and fighting through the winter-like April conditions.
"Cole is a tremendous player who gets better every time he plays," Ervin. "Great kid and a great player."
It only takes a few minutes of conversation with Ekert, who recently turned 15, to get the "great kid" part of Ervin's quote. At age 13, he had a lot to do deal with - a broken collarbone that he reinjured playing golf, Crohn's Disease, and an autoimmune disease, Alopecia, which took his hair.
"At first it was a little tough," said Ekert of the Alopecia. "Now I'm pretty used to it. It's pretty common in New Jersey. It makes your hair fall out."
The golf part of his athletic career has come in quick doses of success for Ekert, whose strength is his long game. He averages about 290 yards per drive. And the mental part is growing fast, too.
"It's high school golf," he said. "I try to have fun, that's when I play my best. I'm not a serious person. Serious about my game and where it can take me, but when it comes to playing, just try to have as much as fun as I can. I always play my best when I'm having fun with the other players.
"My mental game used to be absolutely terrible. I'd get really down on myself. At the beginning of this year, I watched a video of Noah Goodwin, a golfer at SMU. He used to be the same as me and had a really bad mental game. I changed my attitude because of what he said. When I hit a bad shot, I look at it as a challenge, I missed the green, now I have a chance to hit an awesome bunker shot."
In March, Ekert gave a glimpse of his potential by hitting a one-under-par 71 during a junior tournament in Arizona. His best New Jersey score is a five-under 65 at Roxiticus in Mendham. He's rated among the top three in his age group, according to the Polo Junior Golf Rankings and around 300 worldwide.
Ekert is looking forward to more golf this summer when he will attend a golf academy in Florida for a week and then compete in the Kerry Cup in Ireland. In the meantime, he's helping promote a kids golf tournament "Juniors Fore Goryeb" set for June 7. The money raised will benefit Mickey's Garden at Morristown Medical Center.
Ekert is pretty much a self-taught golfer and when pressed to describe his style he compares himself to Dustin Johnson.
"I always try to compare myself to Dustin Johnson of the PGA because he's a really long hitter and a great wedge player," Ekert said. "He's really working on his short game, which is where I am. I figure I'm a similar player to him, which is not too bad.
"I'm a feel player, so I like to change things up. If my swing is awkward, I swing naturally until I feel comfortable on the course. I try things out. Once they click its smooth sailing from there. My putting has gotten a lot better. If I put the time in, it will pay off."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.