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David Schultz: Drive for greatness

Other people's expectations ricochet off his firmly capped head like midsummer hail. David Schultz will be a first-team All-American, they say. David Schultz will be a professional golfer, they say. David Schultz will be successful on the PGA Tou...

Other people's expectations ricochet off his firmly capped head like midsummer hail.

David Schultz will be a first-team All-American, they say. David Schultz will be a professional golfer, they say. David Schultz will be successful on the PGA Tour, they say.

But right now David Schultz is a 20-year-old college sophomore home for the weekend. He forgot to shave and, between slurps of lemon Gatorade, is gnawing on a homemade bar wrapped in cellophane.

"The whole point is to get the little ball to the hole," he said. "Just do it."

It's that simple for this well-spoken wunderkind. A feel player, they call him. Say he needn't bother filling his cranium with the tedium of swing mechanics. He can visualize where the ball should come to rest, and by some mental magic (more often than not) he commands the dimpled white rock with precision, over cultured grass and fine sand, through stiff wind and stiffer competition.

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David Schultz can see it before it happens.

"My goal has been to play consistent golf and to be one of those guys who has a chance to win every week," the 2001 Fargo South graduate said. "It's where you set your goals."

It's one thing to parlay the confidence instilled at a young age by a proud dad (Ed Schultz) into a prep state championship. It's another to leave one frigid locale (Fargo) for another (Colorado State), transfer into a blast furnace (Texas Christian University in Fort Worth) and end up ranked 35th nationally with two individual titles, a free--swinging cog on the No. 8 team in NCAA Division I.

"I guessed right," Schultz said of the move to TCU, though he recently sent an e-mail thanking Colorado State coach Jamie Bermel for not only granting his scholarship release, but for "making me tough."

"I guessed if you can play more during the year you'll improve."

And improve he has. Enough to claim victory at The Ridges Intercollegiate at Jonesborough, Tenn., in September, his first meet with TCU. Enough to go 15-under-par, one shy of the tournament record, to win the Thunderbird Invitational at Arizona State in April, etching his name alongside a former champion named Phil Mickelson. Enough to help the Horned Frogs to a third consecutive Conference USA title.

But, again, Schultz is a feel player; the breakthrough isn't hidden in his swing. Rather the epiphany took place within the confines of that tightly formed purple lid.

Staying atop competition that had morphed from area preps to local amateurs to future pros necessitated a mental evolution. It began with accentuating the positive "even if it was just that it was a nice day." It ended with reacting. By being an athlete.

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Schultz was, after all, a standout high school quarterback and hockey player who just happened to become a phenomenal golfer in the offseason.

This goes beyond physical training -- which he does three to four times per week, always at night to avoid the suffocating Texas heat -- to treating each hole like a set of downs, adjusting mental and physical strategy to fit the situation presented by each shot, each hole.

"He's actually kind of a coach's dream," said Bill Montigel, in his 16th year as head coach at TCU. "He's one of the toughest kids I've ever had, and a lot of that comes from playing other sports. He's so mentally tough."

There have been setbacks. Well, one anyway.

Less than two weeks after blistering the Thunderbird field, Schultz, named first-team All-Conference USA, entered the final round of the National Invitation Tournament in Tucson, Ariz., tied at 6-under-par with reigning U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes of Arizona.

Sleeping with the lead sat like a stomach full of gumbo. Heartburn. Unfamiliar. Schultz had relied on final- round rallies for both prior victories.

Plagued by a "bad head" from the first tee, Schultz, starved for national respect, cognizant of a family back home following the event live on the Internet, shot an 82 to finish tied for 18th.

For the first time in memory, he felt desperate just to get to the clubhouse. For the first time in memory, the expectations got to him.

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"I think he learned from that," Montigel said. "He was devastated. That's one of the real good qualities, he's able to forget what happened yesterday and get ready to play tomorrow."

"He said devastated?" Schultz said, surprised by his coach's response. "I guess that was right. I was pretty quiet. I couldn't believe I did that in that situation."

That's what brings him here, to Moorhead Country Club.

Laid up by a recent knee surgery, Montigel scheduled a dead weekend, a chance for some down time before the NCAA Central Regional May 15-17 in Manhattan, Kan., and -- fingers crossed -- the NCAA Championships May 27-30 in Stillwater, Okla.

Armed with a laundry-sized bucket of balls and a video camera, Schultz and resident pro Larry Murphy are tinkering. Mechanical mumbo jumbo is allowed on the range, but banished from the links. It seems Schultz has been seduced by the ease of poor posture, slouching toward the ball rather than bending at the waist, preventing arms from swinging directly under shoulders.

Less than 30 minutes into the session ...

"That was the best long iron I've hit in a month," Schultz pronounces, the ball still descending from right to left 200-plus yards from takeoff.

Murphy smiles. He's glad to be of service to "a quality young man." The two speak on the phone at least once a week, not always just about golf.

"He has that competitive fire, that burning inside to be successful, and he knows what he needs to get there," Murphy said.

"He's that notch above the average Division I player. He has it all: the mental game, the physical game and the discipline to make it work."

He also has Ping i/3 irons with customized purple lettering. He has a mentor/personal chef/spiritual guru in roommate and former TCU golfer Andy Doeden, also of Fargo. And he has expectations.

David Schultz can see it before it happens. He's just not looking yet.

"I'm not thinking at all about pro golf," Schultz said. "I'm thinking about the next tournament and helping our team and a national championship. College golf won't be what I thought without a national championship."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241--5548

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