It’s eighth period gym class at Hopewell Valley Central High School, the last one of the day. For most students, it’s a time to unwind from the long academic day, play a game or two, get some exercise and go home happy.
And then there is Forrest Swisher, a whirling dervish diving for balls about to hit the floor and scaling the net to try and spike one down on a classmate.
“I like to win at whatever I do,” the senior said. “You can ask anyone who has ever been in my gym class. Even if it’s gym volleyball I’m treating it like it’s a World Series. I just love winning. I play golf so I can win, basically.”
And basically, that’s what he does: plays winning golf.
Swisher has been the Bulldogs’ No. 1 player since his sophomore season. He has had Top-10 finishes in the Mercer County Championship the past two years and has averaged between 38 and 39 all three seasons on varsity.
Last year he took third with a 79 at the Central/South Jersey Group III sectional and reached the Tournament of Champions for the second straight year. He finished sixth overall in Group III with a 79 and was fourth in the prestigious Cherry Valley Invitational with a 72. He equaled his own school record with a four-under 32 last opening day against Steinert at Gambler Ridge.
As great as his season was, Swisher takes part of the blame for the Bulldogs not winning the Group III team championship on their home course of Hopewell Valley Country Club.
“We lost by one stroke and it was really tough,” he said. “I bogeyed a couple holes down the stretch and I know I could have been the one to seal it for us. But this is the year. We’re going to have a big year. I know it.”
And he is using those bogeys as impetus to accomplish bigger things this May.
“There’s so many different examples in sports of teams blowing it or people blowing it and then coming back and using it as motivation,” he said. “Like (Rory) McIlroy blew the Masters, he came right back and won the U.S. Open. That’s what Jordan (Spieth) will be doing this year. That’s what we’ll be trying to do this year.”
Coach Bill Russell would love nothing more than for the Bulldogs to win their first state title since completing a run of three straight in 2012. Not for himself as much as for Swisher.
“We had them a few years back and he’s never gotten one,” Russell said. “He’s taken over the whole leadership of the team. Even though he’s played well and been to Tournament of Champions, he’s out there going ‘Guys, we’ve got to focus and get better if we want to get a state title. We have to keep moving forward.’ That’s good, because we have a little bit of experience but he’s mostly working with a lot of younger kids. He’s been taking them under his wing and showing them what they need to do to get to that next level.”
There was a time when Swisher was the guy under the wing. He got a set of plastic clubs at age 3 and began playing with his father, Allen, as a 9-year-old at Jericho National Golf Club in New Hope, Pennsylvania, which is still his home club. Allen golfed most weekends, and Swisher wanted to follow in his footsteps. Swisher played “every sport” over the years, but gradually dropped them until golf became his main focus.
He had options, though. Swisher was a standout in baseball, football, basketball and soccer. He quit most of them before high school but was good enough to make the Bulldogs’ varsity soccer team last fall and play for a North Jersey 2 Group III championship.
“I’ve always loved soccer and always loved watching (the Premiere League) on TV and really wanted to feel part of a team sport again,” Swisher said. “It was a lot of fun. I got to play in a sectional final and it was a great experience.”
But golf has always been his focus. Due to his competitive nature, Swisher became irked in his pre-teen years when he was not immediately the second coming of Tiger.
“I’m a perfectionist so I don’t like doing poorly, “ he said. “It was definitely frustrating at first. I mean, ’til this day it’s a very frustrating sport. But as I matured I learned to handle it much better.”
Swisher began playing Mercer County 9-hole tournaments at age 10, and started 18-hole events at age 13. He estimates winning around 10 Junior Tournaments from ages 15 to 17 and lists his biggest accomplishment as qualifying for the New Jersey State Amateur Tournament last year. His goal was to just qualify for the tournament, and he took it a step further by being the youngest player to make the cut with scores of 75-77 on the beautiful but difficult Morris County Country Club course. He hopes to get back out there this year.
For now, however, the focus is on Hopewell golf. At mid-April, Russell felt Swisher was doing well, but the player felt otherwise after shooting 40 or higher (for nine holes) in three of four matches.
“I’m still trying to get in the flow of things,” he said on Apr. 17. “I just need some practice. I think this weekend I kind of found my game. I’m ready to start playing better. It’s always tough at the start of the year going from winter. We’re just playing every day, so I don’t have many days where I can just go hit balls and work on my swing. But I did that this weekend so I’m feeling good about it. I’m ready to go now.”
His “slump” hardly affected the team as the Bulldogs won their first five matches. Swisher said sophomore Brandon Li and junior Austin Oldfield both delivered for Hopewell during that stretch.
Swisher, however, is the leader and has become a force by going through a natural maturation process.
“One of his problems during his freshman year is he would get angry real easy,” Russell said. “He’d mess up two holes in frustration and basically his game would fall apart. He’s definitely not like that anymore. Even a bad shot, he lets it go and moves on to the next one. His mental part has definitely improved in that way.”
Swisher felt he was just going through the usual angst of a newbie.
“It’s typical of what a young golfer does,” he said. “You just get down on yourself when you make a bad hole and just get angry. As I matured, after each hole I just kind of re-set my mind and treated each hole like it’s a new hole and focus on that one.”
And what led to this mindset? Experience, he said.
“Nothing good ever comes out of just being mad at yourself and dwelling on a bad hole,” Swisher said. “You need to just clear your mind and focus on the next hole and hit a good shot.”
That was not the only mental adjustment Swisher made. A renowned “big hitter,” he loved to bomb away with his driver and get big-time distance off the tee. Often times, however, he’d be in the woods once the ball stopped rolling.
Now, Russell said, Swisher doesn’t always reach for the driver.
“He knows he can hit a two-iron, hit a real good shot and still give himself the distance,” he said. “He realizes more what’s the smart play for him and he knows his two-iron is the best choice for him instead of just blasting a driver and hoping to get a good shot after that.”
Swisher came to that decision after his early experiences at Hopewell CC, a course that favors a draw that he was not getting using a driver. With the two iron—his favorite club—he is getting 240-yard drives straight down the fairway, which sets him up nicely.
The neat thing about Swisher, however, is that he can get in and out of trouble if a drive goes errant.
“I can spray it off the tee but I’m known for scrambling, getting up and down from bad places,” he said. “That’s usually what carries my game. There’s something about my creativity when I’m in trouble. I just focus in and I’m really good at escaping trouble and making par.”
Swisher’s accomplishments have been enough to lift him to the next level as he will attend Rider University next year and join former HoVal teammate Sam DiGaetano.
“There were a few Division Ones that showed a lot of interest in me, but I have a really good relationship with Sam,” he said. “I’ve known the coach for a while, he’s a great coach. Sam was a senior at Hopewell when I was a freshman. He was a big role model for me.”
Swisher plans on preparing for Rider by playing numerous state amateurs and open qualifiers and playing a U.S. Open qualifier.
He may be using them as a tune-up for Rider, but his personality will most likely have him wanting to win them.