Daniel Uranga had a lot to live up to.
After a freshman season that saw the Homedale golfer have seven top-5 outings, which included a runner-up finish at the 3A State Golf Championships, the best finish at state in the program over the last 17 years, expectations were high to say the least.
It wasn’t an easy sophomore campaign by any means, but Uranga once again lived up to the hype.
He won three 3A Snake River Valley Conference matches, had two more regular season top-5 tournament finishes, claimed the 3A District III title and tied for fourth place at the 3A State Golf Championships to lead the Trojans to a second consecutive fourth place showing.
For these accomplishments, Uranga is the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Boys Golf Athlete of the Year.
“Considering where I started and what everyone expected out of me, I’m really happy how things turned out this season,” Uranga said.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and think ‘oh I did worse at state so therefor I had a down season.’ But looking at the big picture, I was so much better than I was last year. I figured out so many things with my mental game and swing that made my golf game better, easier and more consistent. It was nice to see my growth throughout the year definitely.”
But the start couldn’t have been worse.
In Uranga’s first tournament back following his breakout freshman year at the Nampa Boys Invitational Golf Tourney at the Centennial Golf Course in Nampa, he didn’t medal.
He didn’t even place in the top-10.
Or top-25 for that matter.
Uranga tied for 28th place by carding an 89, 19 strokes back of the winner.
The uncharacteristic result left Uranga questioning whether or not he had lost a step. But a conversation with his father and assistant coach, Tony Uranga squashed that kind of thinking pretty fast.
“He told me he was really feeling the pressure of performing,” Tony said. “I reminded him that he had been on much bigger stages and that one tournament wasn’t going to define his season. I was trying to get him to put the high school season in perspective and to not put too much pressure on himself, especially since he was only a sophomore. I was trying to get him to relax and just have fun again.”
Daniel ended the meeting with his dad by putting the towel he had received from the 2016 Masters Drive, Putt and Chip Championships at the famed Augusta National Golf Course in his golf bag. He was told by his father to keep it there for the remainder of the season to serve as a reminder of what he was capable of.
Daniel responded by winning the first 3A SRV match of the season. He did this despite being demoted from the No. 1 to No. 3 golfer.
But the wake-up call worked, particularly at the 3A District III Championships at Scotch Pines Golf Course in Payette. Uranga trailed Fruitland’s Jonas Bickenese by three strokes heading into the final two holes.
Uranga, though, eagled the par-4 17th and birdied the par-4 18th to force an improbable playoff. He won on the first playoff hole after he made his par putt and Bickenese missed.
Uranga won his first ever district championship with a 1-over 73.
“I just knew I couldn’t give up,” Uranga said. “In golf anything can happen from one hole to the next. I just continued to work and not think about how many strokes I was behind. If you do that, it’s easy to psych yourself out and overthink things. I think that win said a lot about how far my game had come. I don’t know if that was something I would have been able to do last season.That gave me a lot of confidence going into state.”
The performance made him one of the favorites at the 3A State Golf Championships at Twin Lakes Village Golf Course in Rathdrum. He shot a 2-under for his practice round.
But the practice round didn’t translate well on the opening day of state. Uranga was 10 shots off the lead with an 82 that left him in a tie for sixth place.
However, Uranga turned his attention to the team on the final day of state when he realized an individual title was likely lost. Homedale came into the day in third place.
He made sure the Trojans left with some hardware for the second year in a row by birding the final hole. The birdie allowed Homedale to hold off Snake River by a single stroke for fourth for the second straight year. Uranga was four strokes better on day No. 2 with a 78 for a final two-round score of 160 that tied him for fourth place.
“He actually thought his birdie wasn’t enough. He thought he had to eagle it so he was almost in tears after his final putt. But we were like ‘no, no you did it. We got fourth.’ He was like ‘are you serious?’ He was pleasantly surprised to say the least,” Homedale golf coach Casey Grove said. “But that just says a lot about him. He wasn’t thinking about himself. I think in that moment he could have cared less about where he placed. He came through and was clutch for us. That’s just the type of kid he is and the mentality he has.”
It was an up and down season for Uranga, but considering the expectations placed upon the 16-year-old’s shoulders, it still goes down as one of his best yet. And he still has two more years left.
“I feel like I’m going to be a better golfer because of this,” Uranga said. “I feel like I learned a lot about my game mentally and that will help me in the next two years to come. I now know that if something bad happens, I can always overcome it and move on to the next round or the next hole or the next tournament.”