For proof that Anchorage teenager Ian Bruchhauser is a self-taught golfer, look no further than his mother’s laundry basket.
Bruchhauser, 15, is headed to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where he will be one of 80 young golfers competing in the April 7 national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition.
He’s the first Alaskan to make it as far as the national finals, and he’s probably one of the only qualifiers who doesn’t have a coach and didn’t grow up taking lessons.
Instead, he practices putting in the living room and chip shots in the garage of his Anchorage home. His mom, Michele Bruchhauser, said she finds errant golf balls all of the time.
“They’re everywhere,” she said. “There’s about six that he’s chipped into my laundry basket.”
One of 10 boys in the 14- and 15-year-old age group, Bruchhauser qualified for the national finals by winning local, subregional and regional competitions, with his regional victory coming at Chambers Bay golf course in Washington last September.
Bruchhauser has been trying to qualify for the finals for several years now, and along the way it became obvious to him that self-taught golfers are rare in the Drive, Chip and Putt skills competition. At Augusta, his competition will include a Kentucky golfer whose coach is PGA pro Mike Thomas, the father of PGA star Justin Thomas.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “You look around and see all these people with their coaches, and it’s just me and my mom in the corner having fun and laughing. She knows nothing about the game.”
But she knew enough to buy indoor-friendly toys to keep her son active during Anchorage winters when he was a young boy.
“Just like with all little boys, you buy them a set of plastic clubs, you buy them a little baseball mitt, the foam football and the other toys,” Michele Bruchhauser said.
It was the plastic golf clubs that won her son’s affection, and the more he played with them, the more serious he became.
In the summer, Bruchhauser hones his skills on the practice green at Anchorage Golf Course, where he works on putting and chipping. He takes swings anywhere he can — outside when it’s nice, in the garage when it isn’t.
In preparation for his final year of eligibility for the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, he spent hours and hours on the practice green last summer.
“I spent more time at AGC than I did at my actual house,” he said.
Bruchhauser doesn’t belong to a junior league and he’s never taken regular lessons. When he plays a round of golf, he typically goes by himself and joins a threesome.
He played his first Alaska State Amateur last summer and finished with a four-day total of 332, giving him a share of 10th place in the first flight and ranking him 27th among 82 men in the tournament.
“Honestly, it’s just trial and error,” he said. “I set myself a goal and I work to reach that goal, and then when I reach that goal I set a new one.”
Michele Bruchhauser thinks those ever-changing challenges is what motivates her son — that, and a goal-oriented personality.
“He’s always done really well in school,” she said. “In grade school he was on a team of three or four kids that won the state Battle of the Books. When he puts his mind to something, he does it.”
For the last few years, Bruchhauser’s chief goal has been to qualify for the Drive, Chip and Putt national finals. Now that he’s done that, he is chasing a new goal — a college golf scholarship.
To help make that happen, he persuaded his mom to temporarily relocate near family in California so he could spend the 2018-19 school year at a high school in Temecula with a golf team. His aim was to make the junior varsity team as a freshman and log lots of playing time. He wound up making the varsity team.
Bruchhauser and his mom will be in Augusta for about a week. His competition is on Sunday, and on Monday all of the Drive, Chip and Putt participants will get to attend the first day of practice for the April 11-14 Masters Golf Tournament.
He’s making the trip with modest expectations. He said qualifying for the national competition makes him feel like he’s already a winner.
“Just going is an honor,” Bruchhauser said. “Anything more than that is just a bonus for me. The only thing I really want to accomplish is to soak up everything and just have fun with it.”