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PREP GOLF '95: PREVIEW : Woodbridge's Chapple Kicks His Game Into High Gear


IRVINE — The golf professional giving the driving clinic was Tom Purtzer, one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, but there was someone longer off the tee in the audience.

Jason Chapple, then between his junior and senior years in high school, stepped up and knocked a few drives about 320 yards, some 20 yards beyond Purtzer's on the range at the Arizona State golf camp.

Chapple was among the most surprised. "I knew I was long for a high school player but when I was hitting it long compared to a pro, it was kind of shocking," he said. "But length is not everything. I would love to have his swing. It's as smooth as silk."

Purtzer was impressed also.

"He just said, 'Keep that length with you and keep consistent,' " Chapple said. "So far, I'm hitting something like 90% of my fairways, so I'm doing pretty good with it."

Chapple, now a senior on the Woodbridge High golf team, also is pretty good with understatement.

Woodbridge Coach Tracy Roberts, who plays to a six handicap, isn't as reserved. "I've never played with anybody longer than he is and I've played a lot of golf," Roberts said. "He outdrives me by 15 to 30 yards. It's just amazing.

"He's always been incredibly long. I know there's not a high school golfer that is as long, and I don't know of any college players who are longer."

Chapple, in his third season as Woodbridge's top player, is also controlling his game better. He's averaging one under par and his team has benefited. The Warriors, who finished second to powerful Santa Margarita in the Sea View League last year, could challenge for the league title this year.

"You almost want to liken it to his brain growing into his golf game," Roberts said. "He's learned that if he does have a bad round, the world hasn't ended."

It was also a matter of learning how to handle playing well. Because of his long drives--he usually reaches the 510-yard first hole at Rancho San Joaquin with a driver and a 5-iron--and strong putting, Chapple has always made a lot of eagles.

But he often gave back strokes with triple bogeys; Chapple said he would get too excited when he was shooting below par.

When he held it together, the results were spectacular. Last summer, he shot 13-under-par 57 in a practice round at Alhambra Municipal and a few months previously in another practice round, he shot 31 on the back nine at Mission Viejo Country Club.

But more often than not, he struggled to be consistent and until last summer, he hadn't finished below par in competition. Finally something clicked and after winning his first local junior tournament, shooting 76 (44-32) at El Niguel Country Club, he won six other events, each time finishing below par.

"I reached a new level of my game this summer and it's stayed there all the way through this year so far," Chapple said.

The consistency survived the layoff of another football season. Chapple, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound punter, averaged 45.2 yards a kick for the Warriors this fall and was a second-team all-state selection by Cal-Hi Sports. After being wooed by such schools as Florida State, Nevada Las Vegas and Arizona State, he signed a letter of intent to play for San Jose State.

One reason he picked San Jose State is that the Spartans will allow him to play football and golf. His father, Dave Chapple, played six seasons in the NFL, three with the Rams.

Until Chapple's junior year with the Warrior football team, he was also a promising quarterback. That ended after he entered the Woodbridge-Irvine game late in the fourth quarter. "I took late hits on three plays in a row," Chapple said. "On the fourth I started walking to the wrong huddle and just collapsed."

Chapple had to be taken from the field by ambulance, was unconscious for about five hours and spent a couple nights in the hospital. It was the third serious concussion he had suffered in three years of high school football, enough for him and his family to decide to end his career at quarterback.

It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to his golf game.

Instead of spending last summer working on his football skills, Chapple had time to concentrate on golf. Now, he is able to control his long irons much better and his short game is starting to catch up with his driving.

Chapple is pleased that his high school team is as excited to win as he is.

"In my first three years it was not really like a team but now the camaraderie is great," he said. "It's like a football team."

Without, of course, those painful blows to the head.


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