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Tuesday, Dec. 5
The Indiana Daily Student

sports golf

Better with age

Former IU men's golfer Aaron Harrell has made history at a local city tournament in Bedford.

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When one walks into Aaron Harrell’s office at Bedford Federal Savings Bank in Bedford, Indiana, “record breaker” isn’t quite the first thing that comes to mind.

Harrell is an unassuming guy. His office is still a bit bare after only being on the job as a loan officer for about six weeks, with just a few family photos of his wife, Mandy, and his children, 2-year-old Jay and 6-month-old Rhett, strewn about on his desk and shelves. 

On the wall, there’s a small plaque Harrell received as a letter winner on IU’s men’s golf team over 10 years ago, but there are no trophies or certificates indicating he’s a man that owns any records.

But that’s exactly what he is — a record breaker.

On July 22, Harrell wrapped up the fourth and final day of the annual Bedford City Golf Championship at Otis Park Golf Course, taking home the title in dominating fashion. 

Not only did he defeat second-place finisher Ethan Stanley by 24 strokes, but he did so by shooting a four-day score of 22-under par 266, breaking the previous tournament record of 9-under par by 13 strokes.

Yes, 13 strokes.

“I was shocked at how well I played,” Harrell said. “I hit the driver straight, I hit the greens and I missed it in the right spots. If you do that and make a couple of putts, the game is going to be pretty easy if you think your way around it.”

Harrell certainly made it look easy as he tallied a total of 27 birdies, two eagles and only nine bogeys over the course of the four rounds.

Nobody in the history of the tournament, since its inception in 1931, had ever come close to what Harrell did over the two weekends spanning from July 14-July 22. 

But to fully understand the significance of the way Harrell managed to smash the previous record, it’s important to look back at the journey that got him to this point.

Harrell graduated from Bedford North Lawrence High School in 2002 and was a standout on the golf course. He was named to the all-state team during his senior year after finishing 11th at the Indiana State Finals and posting runner-up finishes at both the sectional and regional. 

From there, he wasn’t heavily recruited by many schools at the collegiate level, but did catch the eye of IU men's golf Coach Mike Mayer. Harrell eventually accepted an offer to be a “recruited walk-on” for Mayer in Bloomington, but a broken ankle he suffered while playing basketball with some friends kept him out for his entire freshman season. 

Instead of returning to the team after his year off, he decided to serve a short stint as the team’s manager. However, he eventually earned his spot back as a walk-on after tying for the win at IU’s Walk-On Tournament and was back on the team as a junior, playing with the likes of future PGA Tour members Jeff Overton and Jorge Campillo.

Harrell was a role player on those talented teams, but he did his job well. He consistently cracked the Hoosiers’ top five and even made appearances at the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Championships during his time in Bloomington.

“My time at IU was an unbelievable experience,” Harrell said. “Coach Mayer was amazing for just letting me do that and we still have a friendship today.”

He graduated from IU after five years in 2007 with a general studies degree, but didn’t want his golf career to end quite yet. He bounced around a few jobs such as the assistant golf pro at the Fort Wayne Country Club, a professional career on various mini-tours and even a spot as an assistant coach for the men’s golf team at the University of Louisville.

But Harrell wanted to return home, and when a job as the course pro at his home course of Otis Park opened up in 2013, he had to jump on it.

However, with the new job came drawbacks. The long hours took time away from his family and even playing golf on a casual basis.

With his pro status, he also could no longer compete in the Bedford City Championship as well. He had previously won the event while still playing at IU back in 2005, but he hadn’t played in it since.

It led to him shifting his focus beyond his own golf game. Instead he saw his job at Otis Park as an opportunity to help young golfers in the community who dreamed of reaching the next level like he once did at IU.  

He started a YouTube channel with weekly training videos with some of the local young golfers, helping them develop their games.

“As a golf professional, you want to grow the game, not just see older guys play because it won’t grow at that point,” Harrell said. “I saw getting those young kids playing at a high level as being very important.”

Harrell remained at Otis Park for four years until he decided to pursue a career that would allow him to spend more time with his family. He wound up at Bedford Federal, and he and Mandy decided to start focusing on building a family.

He also wanted to get back to playing golf just for fun. His life had revolved around it for years, dating all the way back to his days in high school and at IU.

Eventually, he got his amateur status back and despite barely playing over the past couple of years, decided to reenter the City Championship for the first time since he won it 13 years ago.

From there, it was history — literally.

He came out hot in the first round July 14, taking a surprising one-shot lead after shooting a 66. He followed that up with a second-round score of 70, giving him a commanding lead after the first weekend.

With an entire week in between the first and second halves of the tournament, most participants took the time to practice plenty in between, but not Harrell.

“I played once on that Wednesday with a couple buddies,” Harrell said. “Then, I hit five range balls Friday night, but then it rained so I stopped.”

The strategy worked as Harrell  topped himself again in the third round. He recorded a course tournament-record round of 8-under 64, beating the old record owned by his former IU teammate Overton, who shot a round of 65 as a high school senior at the BNL Invitational. As an encore, Harrell finished the tournament out with a 66 on the final day to cement his victory.

It was something nobody, not even Harrell himself, could have expected.

“It was really surprising to see someone do that on this course,” current Otis Park course pro Taylor Graeter, who took over for Harrell in 2017, said. “Especially since I know I haven’t seen him out here playing that much lately.”

Yet, after all the rounds of golf he’s played since his days in high school, Harrell said the game has gotten easier for him with age. He doesn’t feel the pressure like he once did at a younger age.

“I think part of it is just not caring as much,” Harrell said. “Nothing depends on how I play. I’ve gotten it through my head that whether I hit a good shot or a bad shot, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Is that shot going to affect my life? No, not really.” 

As Harrell sits in his office just days after his historic weekend, he said it still hasn’t hit him. All he can think about is the future, not the past. He thinks about those young golfers he’s trained and how he now helps coach on the BNL high school team since being back in Bedford, many of which competed against him at this year’s tournament. 

He’s looking ahead to the days where he hopes one of them top what he’s done and maybe be in his shoes one day — as a record breaker.

“I would like to continue playing in the tournament, but I don’t expect to play this well again,” Harrell said. “Hopefully there’s somebody else out there that can break that record, in particular a young player, because that means Bedford and Southern Indiana has a really good player for the future.”

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