Daniel Gaspar is wary about playing too much golf. He has seen excellent players get burnt out, and he has first-hand experience with the physical toll the sport can take on a body.
Gaspar just graduated from Twin Falls High School, and he's about to head to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which gave him a golf scholarship. This pivotal stage in his career hasn't changed an important factor: he still loves golf. One of the only concerns for the Times-News boys golfer of the year is staying healthy enough to play the game that consumes his life.
"I don’t think the fun will ever be taken out of golf," Gaspar said. "I know some people — they’ve graduated high school and gone to college — quit playing golf because their schedules are so intense. But the process of getting better and better and better, it excites me."
Gaspar hurt his back early in the 2018 golf season, and the injury progressively got worse. He thinks too much golf put wear and tear on his back, but he doesn't know exactly what caused the pain.
The injury reached its worst severity at the Great Basin Conference tournament on May 7. Gaspar shot an 8-over 44 on the front nine at Rupert Country Club, and he knew his chances of earning the individual title were all but gone. he also knew his score would count toward his team's total, and Twin Falls had competition for the team title.
So Gaspar regrouped and shot an even-par 35 on the back nine, all while using irons off the tee to ease his pain. His final score of 79 helped the Bruins win the team title by 20 strokes (his teammate Preston Meyerhoeffer was the medalist with a 1-under 70).
"I heard one of my teammates wasn’t doing so well, so I thought if I could still somehow break 80, it’d be OK," Gaspar said. "It worked out, but it wasn’t much fun."
He saw a chiropractor shortly after the tournament. He wasn't 100 percent when the 4A state tournament began a week later, he said, but he felt much better, and the scores reflected his condition.
Gaspar was never in serious contention for his first individual state title. Minico's Joey Gibson and Bishop Kelly's Nick Roberts both shot 67s on the first day, while Gaspar shot a 73, and Roberts posted a 70 in the final round to win the championship by six strokes over Gibson. Gaspar finished two strokes behind Gibson after shooting a 72 in the last round, and he took third place.
All 145 of Gaspar's strokes mattered. The Twin Falls boys edged Bishop Kelly by one stroke for the team state title.
Gaspar moved to Twin Falls three years ago. He was smaller then and didn't hit the ball as far as he does now, so his golf skill wasn't clear at first glance.
"When he came that first year, we were already pretty deep as a team. I just thought he was another player," said Steve Meyerhoeffer, who stepped down as Twin Falls’ head golf coach this spring after seven seasons. "But as the year went on, I realized he was one of our best players."
Gaspar made that clear at the 2016 state tournament, where he posted a two-day score of 147 and finished second individually. His performance helped the Twin Falls boys team win its sixth straight state title, and the margin of victory was a mere two strokes over Bishop Kelly.
"If he hadn’t transferred in," Meyerhoeffer said, "we wouldn’t have kept our streak going."
Gaspar shot 72-77—149 at the 2017 state tournament and finished fifth, nine strokes off the lead. He's disappointed he didn't earn an individual state championship in his three years at Twin Falls, but he's more pleased that he matured and improved overall.
"I’m not gonna try to sit on the past too much," he said. "I want to try to focus on the future."
But if Gaspar has one regret, it's when he recorded a triple bogey on the par-4 15th hole at Falcon Crest Golf Club in the final round of the 2016 state tournament. He'll never know how he would have played on the final three holes had he posted a bogey or better on the 15th. But he knows he had a blowup hole late in the tournament, and he lost the individual title by two strokes. Those facts will never be easy for him to swallow.
Gaspar can ease that memory with a strong career at UMKC. He'd love to play professionally, but he'd also like to be a PGA professional like Steve Meyerhoeffer at Twin Falls Golf Club.
Whatever Gaspar does with his career, he hopes golf is the focus.
From around the ages of 8 to 10, his father regularly dropped him off at the local golf course before work. Gaspar, who was home-schooled, usually brought nothing more than his wedges and putter, so he'd practice his short game exclusively. His mother would pick him up around lunchtime.
"They let me play golf just about every single day," he said, "and it was the greatest thing ever."
When Gaspar approached high school, his parents suggested he focus on golf and abandon other sports. They heard no complaints from their son.
Gaspar knows when to take it easy and put down the clubs. His body and his mind will be better off, he believes, if he doesn't play too much golf. But wherever the line for too much golf sits, he is right next to it.
"Playing golf is probably the best thing for me, because it’s a lifelong sport," Gaspar said. "It’s not like baseball where you play through high school, maybe play college ball and nothing after that. I’m gonna get to play until I’m 85 years old."