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A 6-inch growth spurt has helped Mahtomedi sophomore Patrick Conroy emerge as a player to watch in the Class 3A state tournament.

Tom Conroy recalled his son Patrick and new friend Brian Schepperle's first junior golf program at Hillcrest.

"They were both too small to fit a golf club, it seemed like," Tom said with a laugh. "I remember that part. I remember that bulky little golf club not fitting."

Just 5 years old at the time, Patrick, now a sophomore at Mahtomedi, began learning and cultivating his skills and passion for golf with his soon-to-be best friend, Schepperle, a junior teammate.

While Patrick got older, he remained on the shorter side, much to his dismay. That's all changing now as he's in the middle of a 6-inch growth spurt this past year. He and his father have been marking it on the wall in the basement.

"I know he was pretty anxious," Tom said, laughing. "I can tell he's starting to hit the ball longer."

But being shorter had its advantages. Since Patrick was never a long hitter, he was forced to focus on his short game. That's the only way he could keep up, by making the shots that mattered on and around the greens.

"Growing up, that's all I did. Just chip and putt, chip and putt," Patrick said.

Patrick's uncle, Bob Conroy, is part of the golf-centric family. He's watched and played with Patrick over the years, and has always been fond of his nephew's short game.

"That old saying 'putt like a kid' -- he's pretty fearless and just throws it to the hole and makes it," Bob said. "He has really good hands. Out of the bunkers, around the greens, all around there."

With some added length, the sophomore is now hitting his stride. He shot a 75 at the Class 3A Section 4 tournament two weeks ago, good enough for a share of the title and a state tournament berth.

While the Zephyrs narrowly missed a team berth, Conroy will make the trip with his good buddy, Schepperle. The junior also qualified for state by draining some big putts in a three-hole playoff during the section tournament. He's a similar golfer to Conroy, but hits a little longer and more aggressively.

The two have been playing together for about 10 years now, and it doesn't stop after the high school season. They hit the links all summer, and it's helped both of their games.

"We're really competitive," Conroy said. "We try and beat each other every time. We make each other play better."

Formerly a multi-sport athlete, Conroy decided to put his full focus toward the game he is most drawn to. This past winter, he put in extra time at a local indoor golf facility to continue improving. Last spring he got a chance to play in the section tournament as a freshman, which was a valuable experience, his father said.

His golf commitment has been rewarded, as Patrick will head to Bunker Hills this week for his first of hopefully many Class 3A state tournaments.

"He's all fired up," Dad said.

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