FORTVILLE — At one time, Oliver Mast preferred jump shots over chip shots.
As a dedicated two-sport athlete in his middle school days, basketball consumed his winters, and every spring the baseball diamond was his second home.
“I always played baseball and basketball,” the Mt. Vernon junior recalled. “Those were my main sports.”
At least, they were until he zeroed in on golf, though exactly when the transition unfolded is a matter of debate.
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“Gosh, I get that question a lot, and I feel like my answer changes,” Mast said. “Honestly, it was right around the fifth grade. That’s when I started competing at the tournament level in the summer and stopped being a fair weather golfer.”
His stature played a factor, too, Mast laughed, standing at a modest 5-foot-10, “and that’s with golf shoes on.”
“I didn’t really go inside the arc at all. I still don’t,” the former shooting guard added. “I wasn’t very big. I was always the smaller kid.”
On the golf course, though, he quickly became a giant.
Hanging up his sneakers and infielder’s mitt, Mast dedicated himself to his new passion, and once he entered high school golf was a “year-round” commitment — one that’s helped him cement his future.
“Oliver works on every facet of his game. He always wants to improve,” Mt. Vernon golf coach Caleb Zelencik commented this preseason. “He wants to be his best and he wants his team to succeed. He has a team-first mentality.”
The past two golf seasons, Mast’s individual success has run in union with the team’s.
As a freshman, Mast won medalist honors at sectional with a 71 at Hawk’s Tail of Greenfield while the Marauders scored a 308 to finish runner-up and reach the regional together.
Last spring, the team’s No. 1 golfer tied for medalist honors at both sectional and regional before losing in tiebreakers with scores of 74 and 73, respectively.
Disappointing, he remarked, but not as much as the Marauders’ 327 at sectional for third place, a drop from the year prior as weather conditions bloated every team’s scores.
The Marauders pushed on to regional, again, collectively, but the team’s first sectional title remained elusive, though Mast reached his first state finals where he placed 54th.
With the team’s top-three golfers back in junior Will Dant, senior Jacob Ault and Mast to start the 2016 season at the Yorktown Invitational this Saturday, the Marauders have one goal in mind — sectional.
The additions of Xavier Dunham, a move-in from Guerin Catholic, and a trio of talented sophomores bolsters their belief in their capability.
“Basically, we bring back all of our scorers and with everyone else improving, it could be a great year,” said Mast, who committed to IPFW this preseason. “We want to be remembered.”
Recently, the Daily Reporter caught up with Mast to talk about his career, college commitment and goals for the 2016 season.
Q: How excited are you to get back on the course?
A: This is probably the most excited I’ve been for a season in a long time. The atmosphere at Mt. Vernon is great right now. We have a lot of good things going for us. This year should be poised to be our best.
Q: You mentioned this is the most excited you’ve ever been, how would you define the past two seasons?
A: The first two years was just me trying to figure out what high school golf was really all about. Now, that I’ve got my feet wet, it’s time to set lofty goals for myself and for the team but also while having fun. High school sports is about having fun as well, and there’s a unique balance between those two things. I think now I have a better understanding of that then I did my first year.
Q: How much did you learn from your first state finals appearance last year?
A: That was a great experience and something that makes me obviously want to go back again this year and compete at a higher level.
Q: What did you do this offseason in preparation for the spring?
A: There’s a place in Noblesville called The Golf Center of Hamilton County where I work at. I’ve been going up there; this would be the third full winter. I’m there almost every day, practicing. They have a great indoor facility.
This year, we actually started something new where we had team lessons that were totally individualized. All of us were motivated to go out and get better, so we did this once a week where all the guys on the team would come in and practice to get better. It’s not an organized practice, but every guy was individually motivated.
Q: Where the one area you feel like you’ve improved on the most this offseason?
A: That’s a hard question to answer because I’ve committed so much time to all areas, but I would say trustworthiness in my swing; as in building confidence in that you can actually do it. I put in the work this winter to do that, so come spring and the bigger tournaments, you can trust the swing you put on the ball. That plays into consistency as well.
Q: You committed to IPFW recently. What’s it like to have that decision out of the way? What was it about IPFW that led to your verbal commitment?
A: It’s a great fit all around. I know some of the guys on the golf team there, so it made it a good place for me. Committing there has taken a lot of pressure off of me.
And in this day, a lot of kids my age are committing early, so you don’t want to fall behind the curve. If you wait too long there aren’t going to be any spots left. The good thing is this happened, and now I can focus my attention on golf.
Q: Speaking of which, how big of a goal is winning the sectional?
A: I think a true team goal that we all have our eyes set on is winning that because this is a team that can definitely achieve it. It’s not out of the realm for us to win. That 327 we shot (last year), obviously it was rainy and the conditions were brutal, but that number is something we can build from.
If we can break 315, it gives us a great opportunity to win. I know Will Dant, Jacob Ault and myself, we really want to cement our legacy as a team to be the first ones to win sectional at Mt. Vernon.