by Steve Valandra
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Shane Prante can regularly carry a tee shot 280 yards wearing street shoes and hitting someone else’s driver. He holds the course record at Tumwater Valley for the lowest score – 61 – from the back tees.
Not so long ago, he was ranked as one of the top collegiate golfers in the country while playing for Saint Martin’s University in Olympia.
He’s played in professional events and brought home some bacon, the biggest a $12,000 first-place check at the Tri-Cities Invitational in eastern Washington in 2009.
Playing in 2011 on the Golfweek National Pro Tour, which bills itself as the “number one developmental tour,” Prante made nine of 13 cuts and earned $9,800. Not big dough, but enough to remind him he can still compete.
The tour features tough courses from California to Texas to Florida. Prante had one win and four top-three finishes. Now he’s headed to California in early June to compete for a spot in the upcoming U.S. Open. Prante earned that privilege after being one of six players out of 100 to make it through the first round of qualifying in Washington.
Prante has all the tools. His 6-foot-3 body is long and lean, his swing smooth and repetitive. The only thing that’s given him the yips over the last year or so has been his mind.
Prante practices regularly at Tumwater Valley. Bump into him there sometime during the last 18 months and you could visibly see something was off. Not his swing, but his swagger. Shoulders hunched. A gait so slow you wondered if he even wanted to get to the practice range. He used words like “struggle,” “challenge” and “I’m not sure” when asked about his game.
A seasoned golfer will tell you that mastering the mental game is key to gaining the confidence to play at the highest level, especially when money and, more important, a dream are involved.
“I would say about five times in the last few years I’ve thought about giving up the game,” says Prante, now 30. “I was at a point where the frustration of being ill, a couple stints of wrist problems, and not having the financial means to pursue things really began to take away my joy and hope.”
The illness he speaks of intruded in 2007. Out of college and newly married, he headed to Arizona where he played well on the Gateway Tour, fueling his plan to ace qualifying school and earn his card for the PGA. But a fungal infection known as Valley Fever hit him hard. Prante dropped almost 40 pounds over several months before doctors finally diagnosed his ailment. The fever sapped his body of its physical strength for an extended period. It also messed with his mind, it seems, until just recently.
Run into him now at Tumwater Valley and you immediately detect a new attitude. He stands even taller than he is. He moves quickly from the range to the putting green. He smiles as he talks about his game and the changes in his life.
Some of it is physical. Much of it is spiritual.
“I think going back to basics in my game and really thinking about what I did during the times of my life that I played my best has helped,” Prante says. “However, my biggest achievement has been to truly hand over my situation to Christ and not hold onto the hardships of the last four years or so. I’m letting myself off the hook for some of the things that I couldn’t control. It’s made the game more fun.”
So much so that he is back to talking about the game on the course rather than the things that have kept him away from it.
“My short game has always been the strength. Wedges and putting are where I normally make my hay,” Prante says. “I have really tried to shore up my tee game and become more consistent with my irons, so I can have those good birdie looks. Overall, my main struggle has always been off the tee and I’m always aware and trying to improve that area.”
The work seems to have paid off. Prante finished second at the Iceberg Open in Portland in March shortly after some close friends and supporters put together a fund-raising golf event for him. That generated several thousand dollars that, combined with his savings, Prante is using to pay for travel to upcoming competitions.
“My family and friends know how much I love the game and how much competition has meant to me over the years, and how I desire to achieve great things,” he says. “There are always people who think you should do something else or quit chasing a pipe dream. I think I have learned to not equate what people say good or bad with how I actually perform. Good or bad, I still have to go and do what it takes, and that is only up to me.”
While still searching for firmer financial support and perhaps a sponsor with deep pockets, Prante is more focused on his game, physically and mentally.
“Giving myself the grace to let go and not hold myself in lower regard because of what took place is important,” he says. “Not everything in life makes sense, and usually only after we are through onto the other side can we appreciate where we have been. I wouldn’t have chosen to go through some of the things I’ve gone through.
“But does anyone ever choose adversity? I feel like my maturation has really taken place.”
• June 4. U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Lake Merced, Daly City, California
In his bag
“I got a new RBZ driver and have gained about 20 yards off the tee. Obviously, that is huge and changes the whole dynamics of what I can do on par-5s and in general. I play the (TaylorMade) R9 3-wood, Adams hybrid, Titleist AP2 irons, Vokey Spin-mill wedges and a Ping Anser Redwood putter. The golf ball I play is TaylorMade Penta.”
Steve Valandra lives in Olympia and obsesses (and sometimes writes) about golf in those spare moments when he’s not actually playing the game.