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The Loop

NMSU's Fullerton enjoying the game again


Zach Fullerton considers it a miracle to be playing Division I golf.

The 25-year-old New Mexico State senior had been out of high school, working for about four years as an electrician when he received a call from James Black, head coach at New Mexico Junior College.

It had been awhile since Fullerton had picked up a golf club. Having dropped out of high school early, Fullerton left behind a resume that included a New Mexico State individual high school title his sophomore year, second play as a junior and fourth place as a freshman.

Freedom mattered more than success to Fullerton back then, he said. But with one call, he chose to give up a little of that freedom for a chance to pick up his love for the game.

It's culminated for Fullerton, who won his second straight individual title last month at the Rice Intercollegiate in Houston, where he made only one bogey (and one double bogey) over three rounds (68-74-68), and finished off the win on the third hole of a playoff. Two weeks prior, Fullerton fired a nine-under-par 63 to clinch his first collegiate victory at the New Mexico Collegiate Cup, earning the Western Athletic Conference's golfer of the week awards both times.

"It's been a long time coming for me," said Fullerton, an Albuquerque native. "I've been really blessed to be able to do this, and for me, to do this during my senior year, it's that much greater. As for my confidence, it was amazing to know that I could win, but twice, it's just an elated feeling that I wish I could describe but I can't."

Fullerton remembers getting the call from Black while he was working. Through a friend of the family, Black heard about a talented kid who he thought he would offer a second chance to. "I always had high aspirations to become a golfer, and through my actions they were destroyed," Fullerton said. "I got in with the wrong crowd, I wanted more freedom and to just hang out, which wasn't the right way to handle things."

On the verge of quitting during the 2007-08 season at New Mexico J.C., his first year there, Fullerton stuck with it thanks to Black, who pushed him to stay in school and keep playing. His game would eventually click during the 2008-09 season, as he finished fourth at junior college nationals, also helping the team to a runner-up finish. (Fittingly Black was present for Fullerton's win  at the Collegiate Cup.)

New Mexico State coach Mike Dirks, in his first year with the Aggies, sees a different golfer than the one he met when he arrived last fall. After a round of 62 at the Alister MacKenzie Invitational in Fairfax, Calif., a career-best round of seven birdies and an eagle, Dirks said Fullerton started to enjoy the game again.

"You can see the relief on his face and how winning has shown him that he can do something great again," said Dirks, who came over from SMU and Houston, among other schools. "That kind of feeling, for a golfer to go through that stuff, as a coach you love that because you know they're taking the next step."

For Fullerton, he's more happy about making his father, Jack, proud. He admitted to disappointing his dad, who introduced him to the game at age 4, and thus sparked a bond over golf, playing every day after school in middle school an high school.

Restoring that pride, well Fullerton says the best part about winning. "My dad really instilled to me to be a hard worker in everything I do," he said. "My dad's the main reason why I do what I do.

"Any time I can bring him any sort of pride, and proudness, that means more to me than the wins."

--Stephen Hennessey