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Heavenly Cates: Jeremy quickly ascended to top of Kettle Run’s golf lineup

Thursday, Aug. 21 | By Jeff Malmgren
Jeremy Cates has been Kettle Run's No. 1 golfer since his junior season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Jeremy Cates perfected his short game like every typical golfer.

With a wedge, a bag of balls and a trampoline.

Four years ago, Cates created a makeshift practice range in the large front yard of his home in Broad Run. It featured his family's trampoline as the green.

A vertical net surrounded that trampoline, so Cates would often walk across the road in front of his house to set up a 50-yard shot. He'd then try to hit a ball high enough for it to drop through the circular net and hit the trampoline.

"It was a challenge, especially when you're trying to hit longer shots," the Kettle Run senior said. "When I first started I probably made one out of 10. Now, if I were to do it, I'd probably make five or six."

That front yard practice range lost Cates' daily business once he got a driver's license, which gave him easier access to golf courses and driving ranges. But all of Cates' work with that trampoline helped him quickly change from golf novice to No. 1 golfer in Kettle Run's lineup. He has served as the Cougars' top man the past two seasons despite never swinging a club until he was a rising eighth grader.

During his years practicing at home, Cates' mother, Laurie, became his pseudo-caddy. She would supply the balls by making trips to Walmart and picking up big bags of them for $20. Then Jeremy Cates would spray those balls around their front yard.

His mother would later walk the grounds looking for hidden lost balls.

"It's like an Easter egg hunt," Cates' father, Brian, said.

"I would go off into the woods looking for them – try and find as many as possible," Laurie Cates said. "But we probably have 2,000 balls out there still. Every once in a while we'll still find a ball."

Lost balls were a small price to pay, though, because Jeremy Cates, 17, now considers his short game the greatest strength he has on a golf course.

"I probably wouldn't be here where I'm at if it wasn't for that" front yard work, he said. "I feel I have a lot of confidence around the greens."

Anointed early

As a freshman, Jeremy Cates shot a round of 100 during Kettle Run's preseason tryout session.

He had little more than a year of golfing experience at that point, and his scores quickly began to drop once the season started. In fact, by the end of that 2011 season his teammates were calling him the Cougars' future No. 1 golfer.

"They all saw that he was better as a freshman than they were" as freshmen, Kettle Run coach Dale Edwards said of Cates' junior and senior teammates. "The older guys really embraced him. ... It was, 'You're going to be No. 1.'"

Those predictions didn't thrill Edwards.

"They kind of anointed him," Edwards said. "It put some pressure on him, but he also embraced it. … It all worked out OK."

Cates didn't break into Kettle Run's starting lineup as a freshman until the postseason, when stepped into the No. 6 spot. He then moved up to No. 5 as a sophomore and often contributed to Kettle Run's four-man team score at meets.

As a junior, he vaulted to No. 1 after all his older teammates graduated, thus fulfilling his prophesied destiny.

"I believed that I would be No. 1 at some point," he said. "I just had confidence in myself. I knew I would get better each year."

His teammates seemed to have similar thoughts.

"They saw a quiet guy that had a lot of talent," Edwards said. "He could really hit a golf ball well. His biggest issue ... was he didn't have a very sharp short game."

Cates, of course, used a trampoline to turn that weakness into a strength.

He also began taking lessons as a rising sophomore from Erika Larkin, a PGA teaching professional at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville.

"I probably wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am if it wasn't for her," he said. "Everything has gotten better."

Cates shot in the 90s much of his freshman season before dropping into the 80s as a sophomore and into the 70s as a junior. He now consistently shoots in the mid-70s.

"She really molded him into being a really good golfer,” Edwards said of the Larkin-Cates partnership.

Soccer swapped out

Jeremy Cates spent his early childhood trying to fill his scorecard with big numbers, so to speak.

He started playing soccer at age 4 and immediately excelled as a goal scorer. He tallied four goals in the very first game he played and later amassed double-digit goals in a game as a 7-year-old, his father said.

"He just took to it really quick. He always had the skill set," Brian Cates said. "But he just kind of got bored with it."

So, after committing 10 years to the sport, Jeremy Cates stopped playing soccer. His parents wanted to keep him active, though, so they signed him up for a week-long summer golf camp in Reston following his seventh grade school year.

Cates enjoyed it, and playing the sport almost every day for the next four years didn't soured him on golf.

"I still have a lot of fun playing," he said. "I still look forward to going to the course and playing with my teammates and friends and family."

Brian Cates also began playing golf for the first time four years ago so he could bond with his son. Now, however, there is a clear talent gap between them.

"He gets better and better and better and I stay about the same," Cates said. Other golfers, "they look at him and are like, 'Wow, he's really good.' Then they look at me and say, 'Wow, he didn't learn from you, did he?'"

Jeremy Cates hopes to become good enough this year to earn an opportunity to play golf at an NCAA Division I college.

His only current options appear to be with only Division III or II teams, and if he can’t find a D-I roster spot he’ll likely leave golf behind to attend Virginia Tech, where both his parents were students.

An offer to join a Division I golf team seems unlikely at this point in Cates' career, he and his mother said. Laurie Cates said they talked to a University of Virginia coach about the D-I opportunities for un-recruited high school seniors.

"He said, 'I hate to say this, but [current seniors] are really out of luck," Laurie Cates said. "They're already recruiting kids from the 2017 class."

Wherever Jeremy Cates attends college, he hopes to follow in his father's footsteps by majoring in engineering.

"School is more of my priority than golf," Cates said. "But anything D-I [for golf] I would definitely take it.

"I wish I started playing earlier" than eighth grade, he said, "because I would have a lot better chance to go to college and play golf. … Probably the only chance of D-I is by winning states this year."

That's a lofty goal – he missed the Class 3A state cut by one spot last season – but Cates showed promise by playing well in Mid-Atlantic PGA junior events earlier this summer. He logged six top 10 finishes, including placing first in the Chantilly National Golf & Country Club Classic, finishing second in the Winchester County Club Classic and taking third in the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club Classic.

Far from flustered

People who know Jeremy Cates describe him as "quiet."

He doesn't disagree.

"I'm not the most outgoing person," Cates said. "It's just my personality."

That trait might actually help him as a golfer. Although Cates expects a lot of himself on the golf course, he doesn't react too emotionally after poor shots.

"I think he's the perfect kind of golfer,” Laurie Cates said. "He's kind of shy; laid back. … He doesn't let things bother him.”

"He's one of these very calm kids," Brian Cates said. "He's kind of subdued and [golf] kind of suits him."

With a sport as frustrating as golf, however, even the most even-keeled athletes can't keep their minds from occasionally drowning in doubt. A string of bad holes can affect Cates.

"Sometimes … I stop caring as much," he said. "But when I do that I start playing better a lot [of times]. I stop being so hard on myself."

Cates' typical goal is to birdie every hole he plays. It's an unrealistic expectation, but falling short doesn't send him into a tailspin.

"He sometimes gets down on himself," Dale Edwards said, "but, unlike some kids, it doesn't cost him 10 shots. It costs him two or three."

Cates, naturally, felt disappointed even after shooting a 37 and placing fourth during Kettle Run's season-opening meet Aug. 6 – the Evergreen District Mini Tournament 1.

"Everybody should be hard on themselves to a point," he said. "If you're not, you won't get any better. You need to expect something from yourself."

- - - - -

The Cates File

Family: Father, Brian, owns Cates Engineering, a structural engineering firm in Gainesville. Mother, Laurie, works at General Dynamics. Brother, Devin, 24, is a graduate of Fauquier High and James Madison University.

Favorite place: Stonewall Golf Club: "I go there all the time. I wish it was our home course for the [high school season]. It's always in great shape. It's a great golf course."

Favorite shot: “Having a lot of [fairway] room to work with on my drive so I can try to hit it as far as I can. On a good day, it's maybe 260” yards consistently.

Pre-match rituals: "I don't really like to do any physical work or labor the day before a tournament. I feel like it will mess me up. I either go golfing or just relax."

Favorite athlete: Tiger Woods. "He's the most iconic golfer. He's accomplished a lot. I've just always like him.”

Favorite football team: Philadelphia Eagles. "As long as I can remember, I've liked them. … The first football game I ever watched was the Redskins and the Eagles, and I liked the Eagles' colors. All my family likes the Redskins, so it's kind of weird."

Favorite basketball team: "I like the [Miami] Heat because of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. I used to watch basketball all the time. I'm not sure how much going to watch now that he left” for Cleveland.

Favorite TV show: "The Big Bang Theory." "I like physics. You learn from it, and it’s a funny and interesting show."

Favorite music artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival. "They just have a lot of good songs. I just like their music – southern rock is my favorite.

Favorite restaurant: Chick-fil-A. "I like the Chick-fil-A sauce.

Favorite TV channel: The Golf Channel. "I watch it mostly during the season and the majors.”

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