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Austin Padova’s senior season has been full of milestones.
An oral commitment to North Florida. Golfweek magazine’s player of the week in August. The Sunshine Athletic Conference tournament title.
To understand the Fivay senior’s biggest strength heading into this week’s Class A state tournament, look at one of his largest stumbles.
In the A-9 district tournament, Padova — the defending champion — was 11 over through 10 holes. A few years ago, Padova said he might have blown up or stopped caring. Instead, he shot even par the rest of the round to finish three shots behind the leader.
“I’ve learned to keep my head in the game,” Padova said. “Anything can turn around. That’s the perfect example.”
Fivay coach Eric Kruck said it’s “very rare” for a high school player to hone that maturity. Add that mental edge to a growing drive and one of the county’s best short games, and it’s easy to see why Padova is the St. Petersburg Times’ two-time all-North Suncoast player of the year.
“He always knows that he’s not out of it,” Kruck said. “He can do something to get back in. He never counts himself out.”
And Padova rarely is out of it.
He won the Outback Invitational this fall in his second 18-hole event and breezed to the conference tournament title by six strokes. His big victory at the American Junior Golf Association’s E-Z-Go Vaughn Taylor Championship over the summer earned him a mention in Golfweek.
Padova continued to improve. He grew taller and stronger, and his drives became longer. More experience at summer events
increased the savvy of a player whose parents own Meadow Oaks and whose brother, Jordan, hit a hole-in-one at age 10.
“It’s more of a transition from last year to this year,” Kruck said. “He’s just more mature. He knows his game. He knows how to score on a hole.”
Padova spent his summer on the course, working with his brother to improve his short game. More events gave him more opportunities to recover from the inevitable rough shots and tough rounds. He struggled at regionals, too, but clung to a one-stroke lead to advance with 78.
Without the maturity learned in the summer, “I wouldn’t be here right now,” Padova said after Monday’s practice round at Deer Island Golf and Lake Club in Tavares.
Padova joins Saddlebrook’s Lauren Riehle as three-time state qualifiers from the North Suncoast. Riehle, a senior, advanced after earning medalist honors at regionals. Mitchell junior Dylan Strout is the area’s only other representative at state.
Padova’s experience from two trips to state could be valuable as he vies for a top-five finish this year. He tied for 15th last fall and cracked the top 50 as a sophomore at Ridgewood.
He said he hasn’t been happy with his recent rounds, so he worked harder the past few days. He hit more than 200 balls a day and practiced from the end of school until sundown to get ready for the biggest tournament of his high school career.
“I’ve practiced pretty hard these last few days,” Padova said. “I think I’m ready for the next two rounds.”
Tuesday-Wednesday. Admission is free.
Class A boys
Where: Deer Island Golf and Lake Club, Tavares
Local qualifier: Fivay’s Austin Padova
Class A girls
Where: Harbor Hills Country Club, Lady Lake
Local qualifier: Saddlebrook’s Lauren Riehle
Class 2A boys
Where: Mission Inn Resort and Club, Howey-in-the-Hills
Local individual qualifier: Mitchell’s Dylan Strout