Ilwaco golf coach Bob Enos remembers his first encounter with Blake Kukula quite well. It involved the then-toddler whacking him across the shin with a sawed-off golf club before proclaiming, “I go golf.”
Kukula no longer whacks people on the shin with his golf clubs, as far as we know, but still finds himself repeating those three words more days than not.
“I was kind of born into it,” the Ilwaco junior said. “It was just something that was readily available and right there. … Once I started doing it, I had a lot fun.”
Now, Kukula is a two-time 1B/2B State champion. He has a runner-up finish under his belt as well. But there’s bigger things on his mind: NCAA Division I college golf. Ever since his older brother, Ross, committed to Seattle University in 2013, Kukula’s had the same dream.
“I want to play against this tough division of golfers and see where I compare,” Kukula said. “See how I can work my way to the top of that and just keep going.”
Kukula has had some conversations with college coaches, but nothing serious yet. He said he hasn’t “played as well as I like” on the junior circuit.
But nothing is stopping the 16-year-old from his dream.
Work, work, work
Kukula trains for close to three hours a day after school, Surfside Golf Course a second home to him. Once a month, he makes a six-hour trek to Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine for a three-hour lesson with Jeff Coston, who has won 34 professional trophies.
“I’m not smart enough to know what to look for in my swing,” Kukula said. Coston has the technology and know-how to tweak the specifics. “Once you get knee deep in a little bit, you realize how complicated it can get with swing mechanics and everything.”
On a clear Thursday evening, Kukula is stationed on Surfside’s fifth hole. He has two markers set up 21 feet apart, the PGA Tour average remaining distance on a shot from 125 yards. Kukula spends a lot of time looking at the PGA stats to see how he compares.
“I figure if I can hit it within that, I’m doing pretty good,” he said.
He starts with his 60-degree wedge from 40 yards, and puts five straight shots within the two markers. He steps back 10 yards and does it again. Rinse and repeat until 80 yards. Then it’s full swings with his 60-degree wedge, a 56-degree and a 52-degree. He’ll later continue with his pitching wedge and 9-iron.
On this particular day, he has no headphones in. Usually it’s Dierks Bentley, Eric Church or another country artist accompanying him.
“So much of my day is serious, it’s nice to have something relaxing,” he said.
This drill is fairly routine for Kukula, who checks his phone for what he needs to accomplish on the day. If it gets dark before he finishes, it gets added to the next day’s list.
“It’s crazy hard (to play professionally),” Kukula said. “I want to see if I can do that. I know I can, it’s just a matter of how much I’m willing to prepare. It’s a difficult thing to pursue really.”
A pipe dream
There are golfers around the country that put in as much work as Kukula.
He finished 12th on the Washington Junior Golf Association summer circuit. But he finished the year with a win in the WJGA Tournament of Champions last August in Pullman. He shot a 72-71 at Palouse Ridge to lead the field.
His 74-stroke average last summer could be plenty satisfying for most 16-year-olds.
“However good he is, it’s still not good enough for him,” coach Enos said.
Kukula could do a lot of things. He’s a guitar player, and acted in plays when he was younger. Whatever he picked up, he was good at. Golf is different. He’s not content with being just good. He sees the crowds Tiger Woods draws and imagines playing alongside Tour pros.
“That makes you pretty hyped to play golf and put out a really good round,” he said. “Just to imagine yourself one day being able to make money doing what you love is pretty cool.”
All in the family
Kukula’s father, Jon, is the head pro at Surfside. He started golfing when he was in college after finding an affordable course next to Oregon State University, and he just never stopped.
His sons followed suit. Ryan graduated in 2011 before going on to play at Willamette University where he won eight individual tournament titles. He played on a mini-tour in South Dakota before taking up caddying at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.
Ross, the middle brother, won Ilwaco’s first individual title in 2012. He graduated in 2013 and headed to Seattle University where he helped the Redhawks to their first NCAA appearance in 52 years.
Now there’s the youngest trying to find his way. He already has two state titles.
“They were in a different division with a lot more kids and just had different competition,” Kukula said. “With me, it’s about leading my own path and trying to keep winning as much as I can.”
Is there pressure?
“Yeah, but not from my brothers,” Kukula said. “I’m just very competitive and when I lose, I get pissed off. But there’s no pressure with them; I’m on a totally different path.”
As far as the family games go, Kukula hates to admit that Ross, the only to eclipse 6-foot tall, usually wins. Kukula stands just 5-foot-6 currently. Ryan is 5-10. “If I get to 5-10, I’d be pretty happy.”
As for high school…
Kukula knows he can win four state titles and have a runner-up finish in his five-year prep career. This is a different atmosphere for him compared to the junior circuit.
He warms up with the team at the driving range, but for the most part, he runs his own practice separate from the rest. He’s not at every meet, preferring to play 18-hole tournaments.
“It can be a little awkward,” Kukula said. “They have their own things going on, and this is my thing. It’s like in basketball, I play but there’s all these other guys that play all summer and they’re better than me. This is kind of the same case.”
As for the tournaments, that can be a little strange too. On the junior circuit, it’s not common to win by 12 or 13 strokes like Kukula often does in prep events.
He’s always the frontrunner and come May 21 at Horn Rapids Golf Course in Richland that will be the case again.
“I’ll be nervous this year, I know that. I’m expected to win,” Kukula said. “There’s pressure, but it’s a good pressure. Because I know if I get to that level I want to play at, I’ll have to face the same thing.”