Trading fastballs for fairways at Capital City Amateur

Golf wasn’t always the game for Jon McCaslin. Not at first.

Baseball was McCaslin’s first love, and his ambitions were high from the beginning. Golf was simply “something to do” and to “see how far I could hit it.”

“I wouldn’t call it playing golf,” said McCaslin, a 2002 North Thurston High School graduate.

Yes, he did play one year of golf at North Thurston, but baseball was his thing. As a senior in 2002, he led the Rams to an undefeated season and the Class 3A state title, but an elbow injury sustained while playing baseball at Lewis-Clark State College ended one career – and started another.

McCaslin has been the hottest South Sound amateur golfer in the past few years with back-to-back victories in 2009 and ’10 at the Capitol City Amateur – today and Sunday at Capitol City Golf Club. He’ll begin defense of those titles when the field tees off at 7:30 a.m. today.

“I’m very excited,” McCaslin said. “We’ll see if we can make it a three-peat.”

In high school, McCaslin was a hard-throwing right-hander for the Rams, who sported an 11-0 record with a minuscule 0.99 ERA in leading North Thurston to a 24-0 mark and its first state title in baseball.

He played two years of baseball at Lower Columbia College in Longview before transferring to Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. A shoulder injury his junior season made baseball not fun for him anymore; he took the 2006 year off, came home to Lacey, and figured he’d give golf a try. He returned to Lewiston a year later, with a healed shoulder and his love for baseball back. He rejoined the Warriors’ baseball team and also walked on to the men’s golf team. Soon, he was balancing classes while being a two-sport athlete. Throwing bullpen sessions after golf practice happened a lot.

It was early March of 2007 that McCaslin’s baseball dream was shattered. In the fifth inning of a tournament game against Gonzaga, McCaslin tore a ligament in his throwing elbow after firing a fastball. It’s an injury that is often repaired by Tommy John surgery.

“It was devastating,” McCaslin said. “You grow up your whole life thinking you’ll pursue the baseball dream. It ends with one pitch.”

McCaslin’s pursuits soon changed course in favor of golf. His success in golf didn’t come out of the blue; he worked on all aspects of his game.

He came on the amateur scene in 2008 – a year removed from college – when he placed third in the Capitol City Amateur, the event’s third year back after an eight-year hiatus. In the 2009 tournament, he shot a two-day total of 138 to beat 2008 Capital High graduate Jarred Bossio by five shots, followed it up two weeks later with a victory at the Tacoma City Amateur, and also played at the U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Last year at Capitol City, he fired a 2-under-par 70 on the final day for a two-day total of 137 to win again. And not to be outdone, he got his first hole-in-one at the Washington State Golf Association Champion of Champions event at The Home Course in DuPont back in October. He aced the 214-yard, No. 12 hole using a 5-iron.

“When I got home in 2008, I was practicing and playing golf with (local PGA professional) Tom Staskus, and he was teaching me a few things, and working a lot by myself trying to understand how to score better,” McCaslin said. “Every hole, I would go for it instead of hitting an iron and playing the hole safe. Sometimes, par is good enough. I wanted to make 18 birdies. I wasn’t playing smart golf.”

Capitol City is McCaslin’s home course. He works full time for his family’s area plumbing business, so he’s unable to golf every day as he would like. He’s at the putting greens anywhere from three to four days a week, and playing golf on the weekends. This weekend is only the second tournament in which he has played in 2011. In April, he shot par at the Fort Lewis Amateur at Eagles Pride Golf Course.

His second dream now is making it to the professional ranks.

“I would love to play somewhere where I can play every single day,” McCaslin said. “I would love to take it all the way to professional level and make it a career. That would be a dream.”

For the third time in the past four years, it will be a full field of 152 golfers at this year’s Capitol City event, said Steve McNelly, Capitol City’s general manager.

“It’s probably good or better than I anticipated,” McNelly said. “To be able to fill it before the deadline this year with the economic struggles, I think it bodes well for the tournament.”

McCaslin highlights a talented field, including Bossio, who wrapped up his junior season at the University of Idaho; John Eisentrout; and brothers Patrick and Jack Whealdon. Patrick Whealdon, who will play golf at Saint Martin’s University next season with brother Jack, finished tied for second at the Class 1A state golf tournament in May, leading Ilwaco High School to its third team state title in the past four years.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473