State wrestling champion Atencio picking up the game of golf quickly

It had been just too long since Devin Atencio had gotten his feet wet.

The transfer student from Los Alamos High School was forced to sit out this past wrestling season, in a sport where he was sure to be an asset for Española Valley High School wrestling head coach Aaron Salinas. 

Atencio was the state champion in the 106-pound weight class as a Hilltopper in 2018 during his freshman year and sitting out this season temporally took away his love for competition.

With his eligibility back intact for the spring, Salinas — who also helps coach golf — suggested Atencio give the game a shot.

“The competition is what kept me in wrestling,” Atencio said. “It’s just fun to compete with people, so since I wasn’t in wrestling, I wanted to keep myself out of trouble so I decided to join another sport and Salinas said, ‘I’m coaching golf,’ so I was like, ‘OK, let’s go golfing.’”

Not the easiest sport to pick up, but Atencio is already looking forward to progressing. 

In his first ever tournament at the Shootout in the Desert at the Canyon Club in Albuquerque on Monday, he shot a 115 after just three weeks of practice before never picking up a club prior.

“My little wrestler guy, it was his first time playing,” Española head coach Tom Velarde said after the Shootout. “He’s competitive, so this sport will really appeal to that side of his nature because he understands competition and he understands the situation, so the pressure doesn’t really bother him as much. I think it will be a great outlet for him.”

Atencio said himself that the pressure wasn’t a problem, but what surprised him was fatigue he faced the first time walking an 18-hole course. It went back to getting his feet wet.

“By each hole you get a little more experience with it, so I felt fine,” Atencio said. “The walking is the killer though; a lot of walking and then your feet start to hurt.”

It isn’t at all far-fetched to see first-timers near 200 on the scorecard and Velarde said the 115 Atencio shot was “way ahead of schedule.”

“I know I can get to the low 80s, but it’s going to take a lot of practice,” Atencio said. “Next year I’ll probably get there, I’m certain. I just gotta keep working my way down.”

Atencio was one of two boys to compete at the Shootout, as the rest of the team was absent for not meeting Velarde’s minimum practice time during the week to compete. Manny Gonzales was three strokes behind Atencio at 118.

“Manny needs to play more, but he’s got a lot of talent also,” Velarde said. “For the girls, we got a big girls team. We got a lot of players and most schools don’t have a lot of players, so it’s very fortunate for us. Right now, I’d have to rate it (the girls' performance) at a C-plus, just because where they are at compared to the other schools.”

Leading the way for the girls was freshman Elianna Martinez, shooting 117. She was followed by Davery Valdez (127), Alyssa Rodriguez (134) and Dhruty Sabuwala (145). Maxine Lucero withdrew.

Martinez felt confident moving forward into the junior varsity tournament Wednesday (4/10) at Los Alamos after her round at the Shootout.

Her tee to green game was mostly on point for the day, but mistakes on and around the green will be an area to work on.

“I do need to work on my chips, but I think I did alright today,” she said. “That’s my best score so far. My goal is to get into the 90s and score in the 90s.”

The state-qualifying score for the 5A girls is 98.

“It’s the little things in golf that make a big difference,” Velarde said. “She did about three things that cost her twelve shots and she’ll learn and experience will help her save those twelve shots. You just can’t tell by just looking at her, but she’s super strong. I’m sure this season she’ll get close to breaking 100 and that’s one of her goals.”

The Cleveland High School girls won the Shootout with a team score of 345. The Lady Storm had the best three performances of the day as Jacque Galloway shot 76, Avery Sky shot 80 and Lexi Gutierrez shot 90.

The Cleveland boys were also victorious with a total of 321, led by Lorne Fishburn’s 79. Josh Fambro led all boys with a four-over par 76.

Wednesday at Los Alamos will provide another opportunity for all the players to gain experience at a more comfortable setting and it won't hurt playing a course most of them are more familiar with.

“We’re going to take these kids and get a whole lot more competition under their belt Wednesday (at Los Alamos),” Velarde said. “Where we are compared to our other district teams is tough because Los Alamos is pretty good and Taos is pretty good."

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