As a pre-teen months away from high school, Gage Wolfle played center field in baseball during the spring and summer, wrestled in the winter, and used his athletic ability to contribute on both sides of the ball in football during the fall.
So, naturally, the Clearview Regional High School senior has established himself as one of South Jersey’s best at a sport he wasn’t even competing in five years ago: golf.
Wolfle, one of the favorites in this week’s Carl Arena/Al Rifkin Memorial Tournament Championship at Valleybrook Country Club, will continue his athletic and academic career at St. John’s University next year.
“My major is going to be finance, and New York City is a good place to be for that,” said Wolfle, who is receiving an academic scholarship. “And the courses they get to play around there and Long Island are really nice.”
But how did the multi-sport Wolfle end up excelling at a sport he wasn’t playing more than once a year as a kid? The path to golf success began with heartbreak.
When he was 13 years old, Wolfle had the first of three knee surgeries that led doctors to recommending he steer clear of contact sports. Football and baseball were out.
“I had a bone cyst in my femur,” Wolfle said. “I scored a touchdown (in a Clearview Youth Football game) and I limped right when I got into the endzone. My brother ended up getting hurt the same day on his shoulder for football. He went to get an X-ray the next day. They saw me limping and said, ‘Let’s get an X-ray on him, (too).’ And they found it.”
Gage Wolfle has his brother to thank for the next step in his athletic career, too: learning to become a skilled golfer. Shea Wolfle was two years older than Gage at Clearview High and took to the sport quickly, becoming one of South Jersey’s top players.
“I was always trying to be as good as him,” the younger Wolfle sibling said. “Once I got here as a freshman I was just trying to keep up with him.”
“Playing with his brother and constantly competing against each other, he’s been competing at a high caliber for quite a while,” added Clearview coach Dan Lafferty. “He was constantly being pushed and it helped all of the kids his age, it helped the team constantly. It’s been a phenomenal four years for (Gage), it’s been a pleasure to see him grow.”
Gage Wolfle’s growth led to a trifecta of titles last year as a junior. At the Tri-County Conference tournament, he shot a 70 to win the championship. He shot a 71 to win the Gloucester County Open. And he shot a 74 at Running Deer Country Club in Pittsgrove Township to capture the sectional championship.
Wolfle, who placed 11th among Group 3 golfers in the Tournament of Champions a year ago, is aiming to “improve a little bit” in each tournament in an effort to make his senior season even more memorable.
“Right now our main goal is to try to get into sectionals … so that’s what we’re focusing on and we’ll go from there,” Wolfle said.
And as for the upcoming Carl Arena tourney?
“My freshman year, another kid on our team, Billy Edwards won it,” he said. “And I know he got a lot of press for it and stuff, so I know it’s a nice tournament to get under your hand. … It’s at Valleybrook and I’ve played there a bunch of times.”
Three weeks into his senior year, Wolfle was motoring along in April at a pace that makes it easy to believe the best is to come in May. He shot under 40 in five of his seven Tri-County Conference matches.
Even when he’s not with his Pioneers teammates, Wolfle is tuned into the game. He regularly chats with his older brother, who is working in the professional golf management program at Campbell University in North Carolina, and he works as a caddy at one of the top golf destinations in the world: Pine Valley Golf Club near Clementon.
In August, Wolfle shot a 76 from the tips at Pine Valley to finish second in the annual caddy tournament.
“He’s just a very focused golfer,” Lafferty said. “He has a lot of skills and it’s natural, but he also works at it a lot. He plays constantly.”
Sometimes life has as many unexpected turns as a difficult stretch on the back nine. But if it wasn’t for a football injury five years ago, it’s quite possible Wolfle never would have tapped into the golf talent that was within, waiting to bust out if given the opportunity.
“I think it’s meant to be or predestined,” he said. “My brother didn’t think he’d be playing golf and it’s funny how it ended up happening that way. My dad also stopped playing football when he got to high school and picked up golf. So I just followed the train.”