Luke Wittenborn is doing more than just competing on a high school golf team. He is plotting his future—but not in the way one might think.
The Hopewell Valley Central High School senior isn’t planning a career on the PGA tour, but wants to go into the business world.
“Golf is a very nice business-trip sport,” Wittenborn said. “I’ll take my clients out.”
Indeed, many a deal has been closed by the 18th hole.
“That’s what I’m saying,” Wittenborn said with a grin.
For now, Luke is content being the Bulldogs’ number one man in his senior season, having worked his way up from No. 6 as a freshman. He has been a varsity starter since ninth grade and has always contributed while lingering somewhat in the shadows.
“Luke has never been my star, he’s always been that second guy, that other guy,” coach Bill Russell said. “As a freshman he was honorable mention CVC (Colonial Valley Conference), as a sophomore and junior he was second-team CVC. He always got the recognition, but not that big ‘star’ recognition. That’s what I’m expecting this year, for him to be that number one golfer we can count on and who everybody knows about.”
Wittenborn is looking to follow in the footsteps of captains who came before him, including Forest Swisher, Austin Oldfield and Brandon Li. Each was the team’s No. 1 golfer during that time.
“As a freshman I said, ‘I’ll make the team, put up decent numbers and take it from there,’” Wittenborn said. “Being captain this year, stepping into the shoes of Brandon, is big. He was a phenomenal leader. Austin was good and Forest was amazing. I’ve got a big role, but I’m definitely confident in our team.”
Wittenborn says that although they lost Li and the others, they kept their core together. “We’ve got my buddy Rob (Cacciabaudo), Caroline Tamasi is a solid junior, Rehan (Yedav) and another buddy, Nick Vaggott, will have to step up. I’m definitely confident in our core. We can definitely post another double-win season,” he said.
The Bulldogs went 17-1 last year, finishing third in sectionals (just missing the state tournament) and taking fourth in the Mercer County Tournament. Wittenborn averaged 39 and would like to shave some strokes from that.
“I definitely want to try and qualify for states this year, I haven’t done that yet,” he said. “I’d like the team to finish top three at MCTs this year, and I’d definitely like to get a medalist finish in the top three at MCTs. And I’ve yet to place first at any event in my high school career. This would be the year to do it.”
Wittenborn began playing at age 5, when his dad took him to the renowned Ridge at Back Brook in Ringoes, which had just opened.
He immediately fell in love with the sport, and soon began playing a large amount of junior tournaments. His best showing was a second-place finish at a Makefield Hurricanes Junior Golf Tour event in Pennsylvania last year.
“From the time I started until now I’ve always had fun with it,” Wittenborn said. “Being out with my dad in nature, no one yelling at you to do anything. Just calm. That’s my way to get away. I always find peace in that.”
It was suggested that some kids run cross country for that, which was greeted with a chuckle.
“I’d rather hit the ball around the track,” he said.
By fifth grade, Wittenborn was enjoying success in U.S. Kid tournaments and decided golf was something he wanted to pursue into high school. He had just one issue to conquer – mental toughness.
“I would hit one bad shot and blow up my game,” he said. “You do that and you’re done, it’s over. I learned over the years “Hey you gotta keep it together. Get on to the next hole, and the next hole.’ That’s kind of how I grew, I learned how to manage my game well and keep myself composed.”
It did not come easy.
“It was a journey,” he said. “I never got too mad. But I always let it get to me. I just learned that you can’t let it get to you, you gotta move on. That’s always been my mentality. That’s what really helped me the past four years. I’m a grinder. When I came into high school I knew I had to change my mentality and prove myself.”
He changed it in time to immediately impress his coach.
“One of the reasons he’s been in the lineup since he was a freshman is he doesn’t let one mistake ruin a whole round,” Russell said. “He’s very even keeled. If he hits a bad shot, it’s like ‘All right, I’ll figure out how to make it up.’ He’s not making big time mistakes.”
Equally important is that Wittenborn does not have a weakness in his game. Whether it’s off the tee, in the approach, around the green or taking a putt, he gets it done.
“It’s not like he relies on one part of the game,” Russell said. “Everything he does is good. He may not be the longest driver or best putter but every piece of the game is good. He’s very consistent —he won’t get a lot of bogeys or birdies, just par, par, par, par.”
Wittenborn chooses efficiency over flashiness, noting, “It’s not how; it’s how many.”
When he’s not golfing, Luke loves to fish and started a fishing club at HVCHS. It has swollen to over 30 members and there are plans for an upcoming tournament in which proceeds will go to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. He has been accepted at Rutgers and Maryland with a 3.8 grade point average, and plans on playing club golf.
“I want to keep playing,” he said. “It’s a life sport. That’s another reason why I love it.”
And when he plays it, he means business.