He's qualified because: Tolladay beat out the rest of a 48-player field and won the Central Section individual championship, draining a 10-foot birdie putt to end a six-hole playoff. He was second in the North Area championships and won the County/Metro Athletic Conference title. Had scoring average of 1 over this season.
He said it: "Sometimes you have a guy who dominated all year, then they slip up the last day, but everyone knows was the best player. He just really loves the game and really enjoys competing and he's figured out how to get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible. ... He's not easily rattled." – Fresno Christian coach Jeff Hopper
Opponents struggling to fly with Michael Tolladay on the links can blame Sam Reeves.
He’s the longtime family friend who instructed the Bullard High slugger to bash the golf ball the way he does.
“You can’t teach speed, but you can teach control,” said Reeves, an accomplished amateur golfer who first got to know Tolladay as a child. “So as an 8- or 9-year-old, swing as hard as you can swing. You can always throttle it back as they get older. The golf today has changed somewhat. You have to be able to hit the ball long distances.”
Years later, Tolladay’s distance off the tee coupled with consistent accuracy have helped distinguish him from the rest of the field to become the Central Section individual golf champion and The Bee’s Player of the Year.
“Sometimes you have a guy who dominated all year then they slip up the last day,” said Fresno Christian High golf coach Jeff Hopper. “But everyone knows [Tolladay] was the best player.”
Bullard High coach Randy Seib described Tolladay as the “consummate professional.”
“He’s just hungry and wants to get better,” Seib said.
Tolladay said he averaged 290-300 yards per drive, which comes in part from his 6-foot, 2-inch frame. Though some might call his swing peculiar, Tolladay’s scoring average of 1-over par says that swing’s working for him.
“No one can have a perfect golf swing,” Tolladay said. “I’ve been called a wild player, but I get it done.”
Indeed he does, with consistency being one of his strengths, said Hopper, who has seen Tolladay play several times.
“He doesn’t get in trouble a lot,” Hopper said. “He’s hitting fairways and greens. He does not shoot a bad round.”
Clovis West coach Tom Deel agreed with Hopper, praising Tolladay’s consistency as well as his chipping and putting, which he said are as good as anyone’s in the Valley.
Opponents also have great things to say about Tolladay’s lighthearted and affable demeanor on the golf course.
“There’s an enthusiasm to the game he brings, a joy,” said Clovis North High coach Ron Ramos. “He cares deeply about winning, but it’s not at the cost of his character. He’s just a good guy to be around.”
That personality is what drew Reeves to Tolladay about 10 years ago at the San Joaquin Country Club. Reeves would see Tolladay with his father — whom Tolladay reveres — multiple times a week smacking balls on the range and would play a few holes with him from time to time.
“He always had an infectious grin,” Reeves said. “You gravitated toward him because he had that great personality.”
During those times, Reeves would impart a bit of ribbing in addition to a little knowledge. That’s when he slipped in the advice to swing away. The rest has been history.
And what remains is Tolladay’s future.
The 17-year-old is playing junior tournaments around the state this summer, sharpening his game to defend his title next season. After that, he hopes, are a spot on the Oregon University golf team and a professional golf career.