Anton Arboleda grabbed his driver, removing the head cover, a bear surrounded by blue and gold — the mascot, colors and insignia of the UCLA Bruins.
It’s Arboleda’s skill with a driver, and all the other clubs in his golf bag, which has helped him land a spot at his dream school, UCLA, on a partial golf scholarship. In the fall, he will begin classes in Westwood, only months after graduating from La Cañada High, where he made a name for himself in the sport.
The 17-year old Arboleda started honing his prowess with a club when he was just 3, going out to the driving range with his dad, Antonio. Over the past 14 years, the senior Arboleda hasn’t played golf much himself, focusing instead on helping his son’s game.
“My dad has pretty much been my coach throughout my whole career,” Anton Arboleda said. “He has been there and helped me with anything.”
Golf didn’t become Arboleda’s No. 1 sport until he won a junior practice tournament when he was 12. After that he was hooked, and hungry after getting his first taste of victory. After the tournament, his dad suggested he choose one sport to focus on in high school.
Arboleda chose golf because it offered something most other sports don’t.
“Golf is such an individual sport,” he said. “That is probably the best, and worst thing, about it. You’re not dependent on anyone else winning or losing the game for you. In golf, you don’t win as much as you do in basketball or baseball, but when you do it’s a lot sweeter.”
Many golfers don’t experience the thrill of victory on a regular basis like Arboleda has. Perhaps he is the exception to his own rule.
This year, he has assembled an impressive list of achievements.
During his senior season with the Spartans, he had an 18-hole scoring average of 69 and went on to be named Rio Hondo’s Most Valuable Golfer after capturing the league’s individual championship. In addition, he won the Glendora High School Invitational championship and finished 17th out of 123 players in the CIF Southern California Golf Assn. High School Championship, missing the cut for the CIF State Championship by just two shots.
It is because of Arboleda’s resume this past season that he has been named the 2010 All-Area Boys’ Golfer of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
This isn’t Arboleda’s first All-Area honor, as he earned player-of-the-year honors as a freshman in 2007. In addition, he is a three-time All-Area recipient.
In his fourth season competing for the Spartans, Arboleda enjoyed his most productive year. He was a co-captain as a senior and he is only one of three Spartan golfers in the history of the program to go on to play in college.
His exploits weren’t lost on longtime Spartans Coach Richard Tetu.
“Tee to green, he is the best golfer I’ve had in 10 years,” Tetu said. “He is always going to be around par, and when he gets a hot putter, like many golfers, he can go low.”
Arboleda said he has been able to improve as a player during his high school career. Along with learning to be more patient, he said he has learned the important lesson of how to manage a course.
“I learned a lot about my game the past four years,” he said. “I learned to be smart and work around the course, so even when it’s not my day and I’m not playing so well, I can still put up good scores.”
The magic of his high school career was capped off with a near miracle on his last hole — and last shot of his La Cañada tenure.
Competing in the Southern California tournament, Arboleda found himself 120 yards from the pin on his final hole of the event. Although he couldn’t see the flag, he knew he needed to put the ball in the hole to end on a high note. He swung a nine-iron and the ball somehow found its way into the cup, as he finished the 18th hole of the CIF Southern California Golf Assn. High School Championship with a dream shot.
He couldn’t see what happened to his ball, but he heard a lot of commotion. The crowd erupted, but Arboleda didn’t realize he had actually made the shot until he reached the green and still couldn’t see the ball.
“That was an incredible shot,” Tetu said. “I still think about it.”
Even though Arboleda didn’t qualify for the state championship, Tetu said he is still the one of the best golfers to come through La Cañada.
UCLA will be a big transition for Arboleda, as he faces more talented players at a higher level. Tetu said he thinks Arboleda will do a fine job in college, and should enjoy continued success.
“High school golf was actually pretty easy,” Arboleda said. “There was never much of a challenge. But at UCLA I know I am going to have to bring my A game. The guys there will be All-Americans and players of the year from where they are coming from, too.”
There will be little rest for him over the summer, as he plans to stay on top of his game by playing a lot of rounds and working on his fundamentals.
“There is always something to work on in golf,” he said. “I am definitely looking to take my game one step higher for college. Iron play and short game will be the biggest things for me to work on over the summer.”
The next three weeks will see Arboleda traveling across the country to compete in three tournaments. On Monday he started a three-week period competing in a tournament each week. First, he headed to Washington for a tournament. After that will be going to North Carolina for the U.S. Public Links Tournament, then it’s on to Michigan for the U.S. Junior Amateur, the latter two being United States Golf Assn. events.
When Arboleda does join the Bruins program in the fall, he will be joining a team that is used to success. UCLA’s men’s golf team is ranked sixth and competed in the NCAA national championship. Arboleda hopes he will be able to help the Bruins notch another national championship, as the program last won it all in 2008.
“Our goal as a team is to win the national championship,” Arboleda said. “I want to continue to aim high and be an All-American golfer in college.”
While at UCLA, he hopes to get his master’s degree in history. However, his ultimate dream lies in the world of golf. He hopes to play at St. Andrews in Scotland, or the Masters at Augusta National.
“Eventually, my goal is to turn pro after college,” he said. “Hopefully, I have a successful college career and will be able to play right out of college. I want golf to be my job some day.”