They might arrive in a clunker, but there’s nothing unkempt about the Torrey Pines High boys golf team.
The Falcons continue to pile up championships while piling out of a tired Chevrolet van that we think, at some point, was white.
“It’s terrible,” said Matt Broder, one of Torrey Pines’ golfers. “But that’s also part of the fun. It’s so bad that we look forward to it.”
It’s what was behind them that caused consternation. Two years of being idle because of the pandemic, the Torrey Pines ride was a bit flaky upon its return.
“When we drove to our first match this year we were looking back and this car is getting hit by the paint peeling off the van,” Broder said. “That’s probably the best way to describe its condition.”
At the wheel is coach Chris Drake. He points the battered vehicle in the right direction and ditto for the 29 Falcons players.
“Everything he does revolves around Torrey Pines High golf,” Broder said. “He has a lot of pride in that.”
Pride only goes so far, but when it’s combined with talent and dedication, watch out.
The Falcons are fresh off their seventh straight CIF Division I championship, finishing 20 shots ahead of Escondido’s Classical Academy. The event was dominated by local teams, as the Division II trophy went to La Costa Canyon, after it ended 11 strokes clear of Carmel Valley’s Cathedral Catholic.
Drake gives thanks that he’s at Torrey Pines. Each year Torrey Pines is stocked with players who learned their game elsewhere, and that’s fine with Drake.
“Because the Torrey Pines program is so legendary, I’ve never really had to teach people how to play golf,” said Drake, who also teaches U.S. history on campus. “These guys already know how to play, and a lot of them even have swing coaches. They don’t need another voice in their head telling them how to swing. Ideally, I can support them in other ways.”
Drake, who’s in his 15th year with the girls golf team and his 13th with the boys, preaches teamwork. That’s a foreign concept to most, who usually only have themselves to thank, or fault, when out on the course.
“He always tells us that it’s bigger than just yourself,” Broder said. “That you are playing on a team and you need to lift each other up if someone is down.”
Drake’s task is he has to whittle his squad down to six scoring players for matches. When the competitors are as closely matched as the Falcons’ golfers, that’s a chore.
“They are all great golfers and we’re incredibly deep,” Drake said. “But they were focused on the team’s success and not the individual honors. That’s where their focus was.”
Drake, a latecomer to golf, zeroed in on coaching baseball, basketball and football when he started at Torrey Pines. Then John Olive, the boys basketball coach, asked Drake to take over his girls golf assignment. Then when Chris Chandler, a former NFL quarterback, exited from the boys team, Drake eventually added that, too.
Luckily, Drake didn’t have to break par to make the cut as a golf coach.
“I’m a recreational golfer and I do it for fun,” Drake, 49, said. “For as much time that I spend on golf courses, I should be much better. Every one of my players is better than I am. I provide them comic relief.”
It’s no joke that more than 30 players under Drake have advanced to play at Division I colleges. Sandy Choi, another player Drake once coached, was recently named the women’s assistant golf coach at San Diego State.’
That prompted Choi to call with a heartfelt message.
“She thanked me for all I did for her in golf,” Drake said. “That’s what makes the coaching experience so special.”
Torrey Pines’ trusty van is unique, too. It serves a purpose without being showroom quality.
“When we ride in that beat-up old crusty van, it gives them an opportunity to bond as a team,” Drake said. “That helps us work together for a common goal.”
It’s one that often results in another championship.