Freshman Feature: Braxton Watts
The Freshmen from Farmington
In the game of collegiate golf, little is expected from freshmen. Most players end up redshirting their first year, unable to crack the competitive five-man tournament lineup. Utah true freshmen, Braxton Watts, bucked this trend when he managed to qualify for the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, making his collegiate debut in the first tournament of the Utes 2021-22 season.
"I played solid the first few rounds of qualifying, but I was still five shots back from the last spot on the tournament team," said Watts. "On our 54-hole day I was able to shoot 14-under, putting me at 10-under for the qualifier and that allowed me to secure a spot."
At the Maui Jim in Scottsdale, Arizona, Watts shot 11-over (221) through 54 holes with his best round coming on the second 18 where he was 1-over (71).
"It was fun, but a little tougher," said Watts. "It was my first-time playing desert golf too, so it was a different kind of golf, but it was a really cool experience."
Watts grew up about 30 minutes north from the U in Farmington, Utah. Far from the dry heat and the style of play you see on desert courses in Arizona, but it was in Farmington that his older brother, Boston, first introduced him to the game of golf.
"He started playing when he was seven and because he was doing it, I wanted to try," said Braxton. "Me and him were the only ones in our family who played so we practiced a lot together. Our games grew from there and he went on to play college at Weber State. We've always had that classic little brother versus big brother rivalry so that motivated me to try and get better."
Boston saw tournament action all four years for Weber State (2016-2020). He competed in 40 tournaments as a member of the Wildcats and recorded his best strokes average his junior year with 74.23.
Braxton's brother isn't the only Watts who had a strong impact on the young freshmen as both his parents Kevin and Sasha have helped him become the man he is today.
"My dad and mom pushed me hard to not just to be the best in golf but, in life too," said Watts. "My dad even started getting into golf so he could better understand it and try and help me."
As Watts's golf game grew so did air miles as he competed in tournaments in Arizona, California, Canada, and the Junior Worlds Championship.
Watts would go on to attend Farmington High School where he would have a decorated four-year career as a member of the Phoenix golf team. He was a Three-time all-state and all-region selection, won the region and state championship as an individual in 2019, was named the Player of the Year for the Utah Junior Golf Association twice, and led his team to three top-two finishes at the 5A state tournament.
Watts attributes this success to not just his own game but the culture of Farmington High School.
"I really liked the team aspect of high school golf and I never felt like there was too much pressure. I just felt like I was going out there to just have fun. Everyone on the team was close and I think that really helped us have a good team."
Of all the great memories Watts made during his time as a Phoenix, none could match the moment he captured the individual state title in 2019.
"It's unlike any feeling I've ever had winning any other tournament," said Watts. "We took second in state as a team three times and I had been one shot away from the individual championship every year. So, to finally get over the hump and win it felt really good my senior year."
Once it was time for Watts to select a school, he decided on the program whose head coach lived in the same neighborhood as he did in high school.
"I've known Coach Clegg for a few years and being able to have a good relationship with my coach was really important to me," said Watts. "He and Coach Cain are both good guys and I really enjoy the team culture they've built."
Coach Clegg noticed Watts long before he would go on to pick a school and was impressed with the progression of his game.
"Braxton has shown a lot of growth and improvement each year in recruiting," said Coach Clegg. "He has an exceptional short game that keeps him in rounds when his ball-striking is a bit off. He has always been a great competitor and that is one thing that made us believe as the years passed, he will be capable of making the jump from high school to college golf".
That jump occurred almost instantly when Watts competed in the first tournament, but the freshman already has things he's working on for not just the next tournament, but the season as well.
"I want to play the best golf I can and qualify for as many tournaments as possible this year, and in order to do that I need to be mentally stronger," said Watts. "College golf is a different game, so I need to keep my confidence up now that I know I have the ability and make sure my mind stays in the right place."
Coach Clegg agrees there are things for Watts to improve on in his game, but he is as excited as anyone to see how Watts progresses over the next few years.
"He played incredibly well in the first qualifier which was great for us to see," said Coach Clegg. "There is still a lot of growth in his game, but he is an awesome competitor, and we are thrilled for what he brings to the program."