Lee Trevino would like Walker Isley.
So would Tom Watson.
Two golfers with different personalities reflect two sides of Walker Isley, the South Brunswick senior golfer who signed a letter of intent last Thursday to attend UNC Wilmington.
During the signing, comments revealed that Isley is hardly your robotic, head-down, frowning golf professional so often televised during golf tournaments.
“He’s got a flair that a lot of people knew about,” South golf coach Jeff Register said. “I didn’t particularly like the flair early on. He’s a jokester.”
À la Trevino, when he used a rubber snake to try to startle Nicklaus before a playoff in the 1971 U.S. Open. Trevino went on to win the championship.
Register talked about the time Isley, then a freshman, surreptitiously used a rubber snake to try to scare some golfers on an opposing team. When their fright subsided and they realized it was a fake snake, they accused one of Isley’s teammates of perpetrating the prank. Isley’s unsuspecting teammate inveighed against the accusation. Someone rushed to tell Register about the kerfuffle.
“You never anticipate violence at a golf match,” Register said. “Somebody approached me and said, ‘Man, there’s gonna be a fight over there.’ I thought, ‘What in the world is happening?’ I figured out later that it was Walker who threw a rubber snake over by another team.
“That caused a little ruckus. I knew then it was gonna be a fun ride.”
A ride made enjoyable also because of Isley’s beneficence.
“What people really don’t get to witness is his heart,” Register said. “He’s at Fellowship of Christian Athletes every Friday.
He’s been doing it since middle school. His heart is huge. That’s what people are going to see at the next level that maybe people don’t know about.”
à la Watson, probably as well known today for his work with the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS Research as for his major championships.
Since 2012, the Walker Isley and Susan Morrison Birthday Bash fundraiser at Oak Island Golf Club has raised thousands of dollars. The first Birthday Bash raised $600. The most recent Birthday Bash, Sept. 29, raised $3,295, split between Brunswick County Special Olympics and SECU Hospice House of Brunswick County. In seven events since 2012, the Birthday Bash has raised $13,819 in support of hospice, Special Olympics, Matthew’s Ministry, LifeShare Carolinas and the Boldt family.
That Isley has become a golfer is no surprise. His dad is Steve Isley, head professional, PGA and general manager, at Oak Island Golf Club. At the signing, Walker Isley’s grandmother reminisced about the barely 2-year-old Walker playing with Wiffle golf balls. Golf has been a part of his life ever since.
“It’s not an easy game,” Walker Isley said. “It takes a lot of work. Putting in that work and time pays off. I wanted to win and I wanted to be very good, to where I could compete and win tournaments, be better than everyone else at it. I kept practicing and I kept pushing.”
The work has made him one of the top high school golfers in the state.
Last season, Isley’s average score in eight Mideastern 3A/4A Conference tournaments was of 75.3, which tied for the lowest average score.
Isley finished tied for second in leading the South Brunswick golf team to a third-place finish in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 3A East Regional.
Isley shot a 71 in finishing one stroke behind champion Jake Herring of Fike. The third-place team finish at Reedy Creek Golf Course qualified the Cougars for the state championship tournament
In the NCHSAA Class 3A state golf tournament May 13-14 at the Foxfire Golf Club Red Fox Course in Jackson Springs, Isley finished in fourth place and helped lead the South Brunswick golf team to a tie for fifth place. Isley shot 72-76—148 in finishing 4 over par and four strokes out of first place on the 6,755-yard course.
“At states last year, I played pretty good,” Isley said.
Years of practice culminated in a memorable finish.
“There was never really a point where I was like, ‘All right, I can really be good at this,’” Isley said. “I just stuck with it and kept practicing.”
Through it all, dad Steve has been guiding Walker.
“He taught me about everything I know,” Isley said. “He is the only one who’s ever helped me or given me tips. I play golf with him all the time. We play in a father-son tournament every year and that’s probably my favorite.”
Walker Isley is eager for the spring golf season. He teammates were at the signing.
“All of them are super cool,” he said. “I love all of them. Just being able to play with people that I like so much and am so close to — and a great coach. We all had fun at states.”
Next fall, Isley will be golfing for UNCW.
“It’s close to home. My mom went there. The campus is really nice. I know the three courses that they practice at. The coach is a great guy,” Isley said.
In April, UNCW defended its Colonial Athletic Association men’s golf championship and freshman Segundo Oliva Pinto earned medalist honors by winning a playoff at Pinehurst Course No. 8.
Isley will get a chance to see his future teammates in competition when the CAA championship golf tournament takes place April 24-26 at the Reserve Club at St. James Plantation.
“He’s done a lot of great golf things up to this point,” Register said. “This is just the next step.”