For many high school freshmen, the first priority is to just fit in. Preston Burton quickly surpassed that goal and has emerged as the leader of Charlottesville High School golf team.
In seven varsity matches, the freshman has garnered medalist honors four times and led the Black Knights to their first Jefferson District dual-match win in two seasons at Glenmore Country Club.
Those accomplishments solidify him as The Daily Progress Athlete of the Week.
“Preston’s game is really all-around complete,” Charlottesville golf coach Joshua O’Grady said. “He drives the ball really well, hits his approach shots close and his short game is excellent.”
Burton is no stranger to success on the links. He started playing golf before he was in grade school and his love of the sport has been there ever since.
“I started playing golf when I was four or five,” Burton said. “I got serious after a camp at the Congressional Golf Club in Washington, D.C. when I was 6. Growing up, I played baseball and basketball, too. Golf became my sport of choice because it challenges me a lot and lucky for me, I’m pretty good at it.”
Pretty good is a bit of an understatement.
In his first high school tournament, he fired an even-par 72 to garner medalist honors at the Spotswood Invitational at Lakeview Golf Course in Harrisonburg.
The next week, Burton carded a five-over-par 76 to earn a three-way tie with Fluvanna County freshman Killian Donnelly and Albemarle’s Vivian Hui for top honors during the first Jefferson District golf match of the season at the Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Locust Grove.
The good times didn’t stop there.
Burton shot a 37 to earn first-place honors during a dual match against Orange County last month and last week, he added a 38 at Glenmore Country Club to lead Charlottesville to a team win over Monticello. He followed that up with a 38 against Western Albemarle and a round of 41 against Fluvanna County during the nine-hole tournament.
“So far this season, things haven’t been exactly what I pictured,” Burton said. “I’ve not been making enough pars and birdies. My goal for the rest of the season is to finish under par.”
Burton is a self-proclaimed golf junky. Earlier this season, he played 18 holes at Farmington Country Club before a tournament at Spotswood Country Club. Following the tournament, he played another 18 holes before calling it a day.
“I try to play every day that I can,” Burton said. “This summer, I played seven or eight hours a day, six or seven days a week. But now that I’m back in school, I practice with my team, play in tournaments or practice on my own five or six days a week.”
This summer, Burton geared up for high school golf with a busy slate of VSGA junior and local tournaments. He qualified for the 29th annual VSGA Junior Match Play Championships at Williamsburg National Golf Club and finished third in his flight at the 83rd annual Kenridge Invitational in a field of more experienced golfers.
“This year, I’ve worked to make more putts to get myself under par,” Burton said. “This summer, I also worked on my driving distance. My driving distance is the most underrated part of my game. As Coach O’Grady would say, ‘I have speed.’”
“My best round, outside of tournaments, was a 66 at Meadowcreek this summer,” Burton continued. “My best round in tournament play not be my lowest score, but it is one I’m most proud of, my 76 at the Kenridge Invitational at Farmington this summer.”
Like most golfers, Burton admits that he is a creature of habit and abides by a strict routine.
“I like to hit a few putts and get my putting stroke down,” Burton said. “Then I head over to the range and run through all of my clubs. Then I run back over to the green to hit a few more putts. I don’t really know how I’m going to play until I hit my tee shot off the first hole, because that’s when I’m the most nervous.”
Burton patterns his game after England’s Tommy Fleetwood as well as Tiger Woods.
“Tommy Fleetwood is my size and build, but still generates a lot of power,” Burton said. “Tiger because he plays with so much poise and confidence.”
The Charlottesville freshman calls his game “solid” and believes that his iron play is the best part of his game at this point.
“My driver is my favorite club because I hit the ball far,’ Burton said. “My putter is my least favorite because it is rare when I make a lot of putts. That said, when I’m making a lot of putts, then my putter is my favorite.”
O’Grady said Burton’s best attribute has nothing to do with a club in his bag.
“The most impressive part of his game is his mental game,” O’Grady said. “He knows that he has to shoot great scores for us to be competitive, therefore he has more pressure on him than any other player in the area and yet he still plays well.”
“He is also far beyond his years when it comes to putting a bad shot or hole behind him,” O’Grady continued. “Too many times we see players unable to overcome one bad shot or one double bogey. With Preston, he is mentally tough enough to move right past it. At the Kenridge at Farmington, I saw him start 3 or 4 over on the first three holes and he ended up shooting 76 in a loaded competition.”
Off the course, Burton enjoys staying active.
“While I’m not playing golf, I like to hang out with my friends, play basketball and ski with my friends during skiing season,” Burton said. “My favorite subject is math and I like to go to sporting events to support my school.”
A steady golf game isn’t Burton’s only talent.
“I’m secretly a good dancer, or at least my mom thinks so,” he said.
Burton said the favorite round of golf in his career was at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, playing alongside his dad. His dream round is to play 18 holes at Augusta National, home of The Masters.
He would love to continue to play at the collegiate level at places like Virginia, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Duke, Georgia or Florida State. Down the road, Burton admits playing professionally would be a dream come true.
Charlottesville will wrap-up dual match play Wednesday with a home match against Albemarle before preparing for the district tournament at Meadow Creek Golf Course on Sept. 30.
Burton likely will be in the mix for all-district honors and could compete for district medalist honors on his home course. He is excited for the challenge.
“Two things that help me here,” Burton said. “A lot of my best friends are playing on the team this year. This makes me really comfortable before matches. Plus, I try to play as much as I can with older friends of mine, who also played golf in the Jefferson District when they were in high school. They’ve challenged me and taught me a lot.”