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Berkeley Prep’s Alex Ogle a talented tween on the green

By Rodney Page
Alex Ogle, 12, of Palm Harbor, plays a sand wedge at the practice green on Tuesday (10/31/17) at the Lansbrook Golf Club in Palm Harbor. Ogle plays with Berkeley Prep's varsity golf team that's headed to state. (Douglas R. Clifford, Times)

PALM HARBOR ó It all started on March 26, 2007. Alex Ogle, celebrating his second birthday, gets ready to open presents. A rectangular box from his St. Petersburg neighbors, Eric and Barb Bennett, sits on the tile floor of the family room.

Little Alex rips off the wrapping paper and sees a picture of red plastic Fisher Price golf clubs. He tears into the box, grabs the driver and begins hitting whiffle balls off the walls and sliding glass door. His left-handed swing is nearly flawless.

He hasnít stopped swinging a golf club since.

"He just has this singular focus," said his father, Jonathan. "He always has."

From the very first swing in the family room, Jonathan and Cathy Ogle realized they had a prodigy on their hands. Thatís all well and good. What parents wouldnít want a prodigy? But neither knew a thing about golf. They never played. Never watched it on television. Barely knew the difference between a 5-iron and a tire iron.

"We didnít even know we had the Golf Channel," Cathy Ogle said. "We were channel surfing when he was 2 and he said, ĎStop!í He looked at us and said, ĎIím going to be the best golfer in the world.í Iím thinking, ĎIs there a manual for this?í?"

Cathy is a kindergarten teacher at Lake St. George Elementary School in Palm Harbor. Jonathan is a visual arts instructor for Pinellas County Schools. They had to write their own manual to ensure Alex got the maximum exposure to golf.

On Christmas 2005, Alex got his first set of real golf clubs. At 3 years old he started taking lessons. When he was 4 he joined the Premier Junior Tour as the youngest member ever. In his first tournament he shot 96 for 18 holes at East Lake Woodlands Golf Course and finished second in the 6-and-under age group. Later that year he won his first tournament by shooting a 9-hole score of 34 at Twin Brooks Golf Course.

When he was 7, he won 21 straight junior golf tournaments. In one tournament he eagled two straight holes, earning the nickname Alex "Eagle" Ogle.

"I remember seeing Bobby Jonesí swing (on the Golf Channel)," said Alex, now 12. "I loved that swing. I would practice it and practice it and practice it. I really believe practice makes perfect."

So much so that he wore out several practice nets set up in his front yard.

Not only did the Ogles start learning about golf, they also found out how expensive and time consuming it can be. Tournaments, which are just about every weekend, have entry fees. Coaches cost money. Golf equipment isnít cheap.

They sold their home in St. Petersburg and moved into a fixer-upper in Lansbrook just off the 10th hole. Alex is the Ogleís only child, which wasnít the original plan.

"Heís the only one," Cathy said. "Do you know how expensive golf is?

"This is a life he has chosen and we are doing everything possible. Birthdays, what does he ask for from family and friends? Golf balls, money for tournaments, stuff like that. Thatís all he wants. Letís see how far you can get with two teachers."

Jonathan is Alexís caddy in tournaments, which is both good and bad.

"All the other caddy dads are telling their kids where the putt breaks and Iím like, ĎAlex, I canít help you here,í?" Jonathan said. "I donít know how to read greens. But I think that made him a better player."

Jonathan has been with Alex every step of the way. He created a website, www.alexeagleogle.com, which lists all of his accomplishments and videos. To date he has played in 243 tournaments and won 151.

Last year, the Ogles decided to enroll Alex at Berkeley Prep when he was not accepted into East Lake Middle Schoolís Academy of Engineering. They receive some financial assistance and get help from family and friends.

As a sixth grader, Ogle made the Berkeley Prep varsity golf team. He did not qualify for the state tournament, but did have his first hole-in-one in the region tournament.

This year, Ogle shot 75 at regionals and won a playoff to earn a spot in the Class A state tournament, which begins Tuesday at the Mission Inn and Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills. He is one of the youngest players to qualify for a high school state tournament.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time he is very consistent," Bucs coach Tom Shea said. "Every once in awhile he thinks heís Phil Mickelson and tries to hit the near impossible shot through a 2-inch gap. But heís a much smarter player now and heís only going to get better and better."

Ogle has no problem playing against older golfers. Heís done it all of his short life. But he admits high school was a bit of a change.

"I was just so nervous last year," Ogle said. "I really didnít know what was going on. This year I felt more relaxed. I donít hit it as far as they do but my putting and chipping makes up for it."

The Oglesí house is filled with trophies, medals and signed golf balls from players like Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Chi Chi Rodriguez. There is a strip of turf in the living room so Alex can practice putting at night or when itís raining. The curtain in his bedroom is green, the same color as the jacket the Masterís champion wears.

Ogle may make it to Augusta one day, but until then there will be hundreds more tournaments and even more practice rounds.

"I love playing and I love practicing," Alex Ogle said. "Golf is my main thing and I want to be the best I can be."