PALMER — When Garrett Stortz started golfing at age 16, he had “no clue” he would one day compete at the Special Olympics World Games.

“It was kinda one of those things where … I started playing and just, you know, got better as time went on,” he said.

Stortz, a 2009 Palmer High School graduate, was well known then for his appearances on the football field as the Moose mascot, but was just coming into his own as a golfer. After working at the Palmer Golf Course for a couple years, he finally picked up a club and found his swing.

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“Next thing I know I’m going to Worlds and I’m getting new clubs and just a whole bunch of crazy stuff started happening,” Stortz said.

Now, he’s got a gold medal from the 2014 national Special Olympics competition and a bronze in his division from the 2015 World Games.

At the games on July 31, Stortz stepped up to the tee for the last round of four days of competitionwith little idea of who would be getting which medal.

“When we went into the final day, there was like a two- to three-stroke difference between first through fifth, so I didn’t really know what to expect as far as how everything would finish,” he said.

In 18 holes, each day, Stortz’s scores progressed from 80 to 78 (twice) to 77, all personal bests. He finished behind second-place finisher Magnus Johnsson, of Sweden, by one stroke.

“Competition was really, really tight,” Stortz said.

He placed ninth overall, and was the first level-5 golfer from Alaska to compete at the World Games.

Scott Johnson, an instructor at Sleepy Hollow Golf Course in Wasilla since 2004, was Stortz’s caddy for the games. He was impressed, but not surprised, with the 23-year-old’s performance.

“His best competition round leading up to the games was 101, 88, 94,” Johnson said. “As an instructor friend of his and a caddy, we couldn’t have asked for anything more, as far as his development.”

That development was fostered both by Johnson and Palmer golf course employees.

“We always try to encourage them to just pick up the game, at least try it out,” said PGC Director of Golf George Collum, of the course’s young or new employees.

With encouragement and informal coaching from Collum, instructor Joe Butler and Trent Berberich, a friend and co-worker of Stortz, the budding golfer took to the sport like few do.

“I think what struck me about him the most is he’s actually pretty focused, he’s really into it, and he wants to practice a lot,” Collum said. “Golfers, if they’re gonna get good, they’re gonna have to put in the hours, and he did that. … He’d work a whole shift and then stay out on the driving range.”

As a maintenance worker, Stortz has shown that he not only cares about improving his game, but keeping a neat and clean course for others with the same drive.

“He cares about the golf course and that’s one of the key things,” Collum said. “He likes to take care of it and he takes pride in his work. It’s like working on a piece of living art.”

Stortz said he could see himself working at the golf course for a long time, and isn’t expecting to go pro. He’s just going to keep focusing on personal improvement, and he’s proud of what he’s already done.

“I don't think I’ll make the PGA Tour, that’s like, out the door,” Stortz said. “But, for what I’ve been able to accomplish and do out here, I think I’ve come a long ways — winning nationals in New Jersey and then taking third at the World Games for the first level-5 golfer from Alaska.”

Stortz’s next competitive tee off will be at the end-of-season Special Olympics Alaska golf tournament beginning Sept. 11 at Anchorage Golf Course. For more information, see specialolympicsalaska.org/resources/coaches, or find Special Olympics Alaska on Facebook.

Contact Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or caitlin.skvorc@frontiersman.com.

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