Chip Shot! Tooley and Beckham lead the way.
If Warren East High School boys’ golf coach Wes Sanford were a horse trainer, he would have a couple of thoroughbreds in his stable this season. Sanford’s WEHS golf team includes a couple of seniors with pedigrees worthy of a Triple Crown winner. Together, they could give the team a chance to make it to the winner’s circle.
WEHS seniors Brett Beckham and Christian Tooley have been the leaders for the Raider golf team, shooting right at par in most tournaments and giving WEHS a shot at winning many competitions. If those names seem familiar, it’s because they have some history with Warren East golf.
Beckham is the younger brother of Brandon Beckham, a former WEHS golf and baseball standout who starred on the Western Kentucky University golf team from 2011 through the spring of 2015, and Tooley is the younger brother of twins Keith and Kyle Tooley, who played golf at WEHS before playing collegiately. Keith was a golfer at WKU, and Kyle played baseball and golf at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.
That family history and the knowledge of the game have carried over to the current WEHS seniors, who Sanford says both bring great work habits and leadership qualities to the team.
“Their work ethic and dedication to the game, even when nobody is watching, make Christian and Brett great golfers,” says Sanford. “Both Brett and Christian are devoted to their golf game. They are constantly working on their game and improving their swings. All the other guys see how hard they work and how talented they are, and they want to follow in their footsteps.”
Beckham and Tooley are following the footsteps of their older brothers, but they have taken slightly different paths. Beckham started golfing at a young age and is in his 10th season as a member of the WEHS team. Tooley took up golf in the eighth grade.
Beckham, although he has played golf for a decade, hasn’t given up on his other sport, baseball. He plays shortstop for the Raiders in the spring, and as a junior he earned the team’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. He has stuck with both sports because he thinks they can complement each other.
“I like baseball because it’s a team sport,” he says. “There’s more pressure in golf because you’re out there as an individual. I don’t get nervous in baseball because of the experience in big golf tournaments. A bunch of people say they are afraid to play golf because they think it will mess up their baseball swing, but it hasn’t for me.”
Beckham does admit to concentrating more on his golf game these days. “If you’re going to play well, you have to be dedicated to it,” he says. “I’ve been dedicated to it the last few years, and I hope to play in college.”
Brett says he may follow older brother Brandon and become a Hilltopper. “WKU is definitely a possibility,” he says. “I’ve looked at their engineering program. I have always liked messing with motors and things, seeing how they worked. My dad is an electrical engineer, so I grew up with that.”
Tooley also has ambitions of playing at WKU, but that hardly seemed like a viable option when he began playing for WEHS as an eighth grader.
“I shot 121 for 18 holes my eighth grade year,” he recalls. “I promised myself I was never going to do that again. I was embarrassed. I’ve been practicing non-stop after that.”
The practice paid off. In the summer after his eighth grade year, Tooley shot rounds of 74 and 75 to finish fourth in the State Junior Amateur tournament. Today he shoots “anywhere around par” and has made a name for himself with his performance in high school and summer tournaments.
Tooley took third in the Pickens Amateur and second in the Paul Walker tournament this past summer, finishing ahead of some college golfers in both events. That experience has given him the confidence to set his sights on a big prize: reaching the state tournament.
“I missed state by three strokes as a freshman, by one stroke as a sophomore, and by three strokes last year,” he says. “The region is at Crosswinds this year, and I play well there. I hope to break through this year.”
Like Beckham, Tooley also has his sights set on possibly playing golf at WKU. “I really want to go to WKU,” he says. “They have a good agriculture program, and I want to be an agriculture teacher.”
For the short term, Tooley is aiming for a spot in the state tournament, and he thinks the WEHS team has a legitimate shot. In addition to himself and Beckham, Tooley mentions Dean Carothers, Dakota Campbell and Eli Sparks as players who could lift the Raiders to that lofty goal.
Likewise, coach Sanford believes this might be the year that East breaks through.
“We have a shot, but there are some great teams in our region,” says Sanford, who also coaches the WEHS baseball team in the spring. “In order for us to make it to region, all of our guys will have to play well. We are very capable of doing this, especially when you have to great golfers like Brett and Christian.”