Adam Niles can rip it.
The 18-year-old golfer from Kamloops used 330-yard bombs — and an improved wedge game — to make a statement for the Western New Mexico University Mustangs in his NCAA Division 2 debut this week at Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso, Tex.
Niles, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 170 pounds, led his squad with a three-round total of 210, the 6-under mark good for a tie for second overall in individual standings at the South Central Invitational. Garrett Leek of Midwestern State shot 203 to run away with the tournament.
“When I got here, the coach realized early in my practising what my weaknesses were and it was my wedges,” said Niles, a Rivershore Golf Links member.
“The course we played was long. I got those wedges going and ended up making a lot of birdies.”
The Mustangs won the team title, finishing seven shots clear of runner-up Colorado Mesa to earn a healthy points haul as they chase a berth at regionals, the last stop before the NCAA Division 2 national championship.
There are eight players on the Mustangs’ golf team. Only five players can represent the Mustangs in team play at each tournament. The top four individual scores from each round count toward the team total.
After nine intrasquad qualifying rounds, all held before the first regular-season tournament, Niles finished with the second-best scoring total on his team, which includes three seniors.
Those results, paired with his excellent showing in El Paso, have secured his place on head coach Kent Beatty’s travelling team for the Midwestern Invitational at Wichita Falls Country Club, slated to begin on Oct. 12 in Wichita Falls, Tex.
Niles, who is pursuing a degree in business management, noted about an eight per cent increase in how far his ball travelled in El Paso in comparison with Kamloops.
“There was trouble at 340 and I was having to back off,” he said. “It’s different because I have to bring in other elements of the golf course I’m not usually used to seeing.”
There is not room for much else outside of golf for Niles, who is living with three teammates on campus in Silver City, a town of about 9,500.
“I’m here for schooling, and golf is a bonus,” Niles said. “The better I play, the more scholarship money I get for golf, but as a freshman, I don’t get that much.”
Niles is picturing a career in golf, but not necessarily in a playing capacity.
“It’s so hard to make it to the pros now,” said Niles, a Valleyview secondary graduate. “If I get really good and start playing well and get my confidence up and, in four years, I’m there and I can turn pro, I’d like to, but it’s not something I’m really thinking of right now.”
What about coming home to run Rivershore?
“Yeah, maybe,” Niles said with a laugh. “If [general manager] Kevin Oates ever steps down. It would be nice living on the course where I work.
“That would be pretty cool. You never know.”