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Valencia's Jonathan Chang: Changing Chang

Valencia senior golfer took a risk and rebuilt his game from the ground up

Posted: May 31, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Valencia senior golfer Jonathan Chang will compete in today’s CIF/Southern California Golf Association Tournament at Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena. Chang is the two-time Foothill League Most Valuable Player, having won the prize in 2010 and 2012.

 

Two years ago, Jonathan Chang was the Santa Clarita Valley’s fastest rising prep golf star.

And he was on the verge of quitting the sport.

Instead, Chang made a risky change.

Now he’s one step away from playing for a state championship.

Chang, who is golfing today in the CIF/Southern California Golf Association Tournament — the stage that will determine who golfs in next Wednesday’s CIF State Championship, completely rebuilt his game from the ground up prior to his junior year.

He suffered consequences and reaped rewards from doing so.

“On the difficulty scale of one to 10, I’d give it a 10,” the senior says of the process. “I changed everything after my sophomore year.”

To understand why he would go through the process, it has to be stated where he started.

As a sophomore, Chang earned the Foothill League Most Valuable Player prize, which goes to the golfer who has the lowest amount of strokes for the league season.

He also made it to the third stage of the state playoffs — the SCGA Tournament.

But in the summer, Chang said he was awful in junior tournaments, sometimes finishing dead last.

“It was so frustrating,” Chang says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated.”

What was happening was Chang was growing.

He was getting taller, his balance was changing and his body was maturing.

So during that sophomore prep year, explained his private golf coach Kevin Scheller, his misses weren’t so bad.

But come the summer, when his body was changing, the misses were worse — far worse.

“What happens with junior golfers is most of them play with misses in their bag. Imagine being 14 and the ball speed is say 130 mph. A ball you miss 10 yards right at 130 mph would increase four times that if your ball speed increased to 165 mph,” Scheller says.

All of a sudden, Chang was doing that, spraying the ball far off the fairway.

Enter Scheller, who Chang had heard worked with PGA Tour pro Anthony Kim.

Chang’s family hired Scheller and he immediately told the young golfer that he would have to start from scratch — not the greatest news Chang could hear.

It was a risky move, as it’s generally thought that most college recruiters look at a prep athlete’s junior year as maybe the most significant one.

Chang knew this, but took the long-range view.

His game had reached the ceiling.

If he started over again, the ceiling would be higher.

Chang changed everything — from his grip, to swing, to muscles he used.

“We went from grip to how to properly load and balance a backswing, to how to properly balance a downswing and how to balance and release the finish,” Scheller says. “I never lied to him. I told him it would be hard.”

Valencia head golf coach Robert Waters says he could see Chang’s frustration because of his desire for instant gratification.

But his junior year was not on par with his sophomore season.

Chang dropped from first in the Foothill League to fourth, as his scoring average went up nearly four strokes.

“It was pretty stressful, I’m not going to lie,” Chang said.

Chang was constantly thinking about his new mechanics when he was playing.

It got so stressful that he would go a month without talking to Scheller, trying to avoid him.

Yet he kept going back to his coach, ultimately believing that this new way of golf would benefit him in the long run.

Waters says the first sign of that was late last summer.

The coach, who is also the defensive coordinator for the Valencia High football team, would hit some balls at Chang’s home course, TPC Valencia, after football practice.

He’d see Chang with a growing confidence.

Then the major sign was in a preleague match this season when Chang shot a 4-under 68 at Robinson Ranch against Chaminade. He outshot University of California, Berkeley-bound golfer Drew Miller and potential NCAA Division I golfer Justin de los Santos, who played in his group.

Chang shaved two strokes off his average by the end of his senior season and again claimed the Foothill MVP.

“The two things that have improved dramatically are one, his confidence. That comes with time from the swing change. Two is course management. It’s the best I’ve ever seen from him right now,” Waters says.

And now he’s golfing for a chance at state.

If he finishes in the top nine, he advances.

He’ll have to go a couple strokes under-par more than likely, but he’s more than capable of doing that.

Baffling, though, is how Chang doesn’t have a college scholarship to play golf, though he does have a couple of schools looking at him.

He knew it might come to this — that changing Chang might mean short-term growing pains, but long-term promise.

So did his coach.

“Whatever program that decides to give him a spot will be lucky in four years,” Scheller says. “The coach will be getting a kid who in four years who will be a leader on the team, a great teammate, obviously a good student, a pleasure to have on the team, and he will increasingly develop into a better player. Jonathan Chang is a no-lose situation.”

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