By any standards, Jackson Buchanan’s freshman high school golf season at Buford in 2018 was a strong one.
Winning low medalist in the Area 3-AAAAA tournament, placing 20th in the Class AAAAA state tournament and earning second-team All-County honors from the Daily Post makes for quite an impressive portion of a golf resume.
Yet Buchanan felt like there was something missing, something that required a totally different attitude for his sophomore campaign this spring.
“During my freshman year, I was just trying to kind of get used to and experience the team aspect of the sport,” Buchanan said. “I learned how to work as a team instead of just worrying about myself. I started bringing up my teammates. It just kind of helped me relax more being able to rely on my team. I just started to put things into perspective.
“It’s not all golf. I got to play golf with my best friends and enjoy every round. So I kind of just put that into perspective and things started going my way.”
That new attitude paid off for both the Daily Post’s 2019 Boys Golf Player of the Year and the Wolves this season.
Individually, Buchanan was even better a year after his high school debut, playing in nine different events for Buford, winning low medalist in three of those events, including shooting 2-under par 70 to win the Area 3-AAAAA tournament.
It was during the latter in which Buford coach Justin Johnson said is the most prime example of the difference in Buchanan this year from the last.
Like Buchanan, Johnson credits his better understanding and appreciation of the team aspects of high school golf with that transformation.
“He went from being a kid who played in all these junior tournaments just for himself,” Johnson said. “What I saw last year was that if he had a bad round he just wasn’t satisfied with, it was almost like, ‘OK, this is done. I’m over it. This round is a tank. I’ll move on to next week.’
“He had tremendous mental toughness this year in terms of feeling like he’s playing for more than just himself, when things may not go well, to just hang on. You look at the area tournament, he got a 10 on the first hole and hit two balls out of bounds. He could’ve phoned it in just then. And then he proceeds to shoot (70) for the … (round). That would not have happened last year.”
In all, Buchanan posted no fewer than eight rounds in the 70s during the high school season, culminated by a 5-under round of 67 on the final round of the 2019 Class AAAAA state tournament.
In keeping with his team-oriented attitude, the most memorable moment of that final round came when he approached the 18th hole.
It wasn’t until after his 25-foot putt for eagle lipped out, and he tapped in for birdie to complete his sixth-place individual finish with a 36-hole score of 144, that he learned that his score had capped a school record-setting day for the Wolves, who finished the second round of 301 to combine with the opening round score of 319 to place sixth in the team standings.
“It was a crazy experience because my coaches were updating everyone and everyone started coming in pretty strong,” Buchanan said. “I had an eagle putt on the 18th green and there were, like, 40-plus people there. That got my heart going, and it was crazy because I had about 25 feet (left), and (the putt) lipped out. So I shot 67 instead of 66. But it was good because we already had all the (other) scores in. I had no clue how good all of my teammates played, so it was kind of surprising.”
Surprising to Buchanan, perhaps, but not necessarily to Johnson.
The experience Buchanan felt during that moment, and throughout the high school season, has carried over to his tournament play of late, has included wins this spring in the Chateau Elan Spring Finale, Georgia Club Junior Classic and this past week, the Atlanta Junior Championship at Bear’s Best.
Johnson is convinced that the camaraderie he experienced with friends and teammates, including fellow All-County selection Nick Allison, proved beneficial to both.
“Jackson’s kind of an engaging personality,” Johnson said. “He knows that the junior golf scene is filled with a bunch of kids who know each other because they play each other every weekend. Now he’s able to have guys that he practices with on a daily basis that he sees at school and has classes with. He’s definitely bought into that. He really enjoyed that aspect of high school golf.”