Will Hocker and the rest of his foursome had just finished a recent golf tournament when they were approached by a youngster looking for autographs.

“We were one of the first groups to finish and we told him maybe it would be better to wait for some of the guys still on the course,” Hocker recalled.

At that moment, the boy’s father intervened.

“You are here for a reason; you have to believe it,” the father said.

Hocker, a 24-year-old golfer from Webster University in St. Louis, is about to accomplish his lifelong goal of playing the sport he loves at the professional level. He is scheduled to compete next week in the US Amateur Championships at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey.

The following week he will attend Korn Ferry Tour qualifying as he seeks to become a professional golfer.

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“I get nervous, no doubt, and for me that feeling tends to go away right after I start that first hole,” Hocker said. “From there I can usually relax and just focus on my game.”

Hocker won the 2021 NCAA Division III National title and was named the Division III Jack Nicklaus Award winner after finishing second in this year’s DIII National Tournament in Florida. He capped off his Gorlok career by winning seven tournaments this spring to give him 14 career championships.

His 70.45 average was the lowest in all of NCAA Division III, and he earned first-team PING All-American honors.

He joined Division I Oklahoma’s Chris Gotterup (Oklahoma), Division II’s AJ Eward (Berry), NAIA’s Jacob Staubhaug (Keiser) and NJCAA’s Cecil Beslisle (South Mountain) as national players of the year and had the opportunity to meet Jack Nicklaus at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Course in Dublin, Ohio earlier this summer.

“A lot of great things have happened to me over the past few years, but having the chance to win this award and having the chance to meet Mr. Nicklaus…that’s something I don’t think I’ll forget,” Hocker said.

After graduating with a degree in finance and staying this year to get his MBA, Hocker is back in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, living with his parents. But he also spent a good part of his summer traveling and playing golf.

Due to his summer travels, Hocker chose to play in an American Amateur Qualifier at Webster Golf Club in Rochester, New York.

“I couldn’t resist sending notes to my college coaches, Brad Smith and Andrew Belski, and joking that if I couldn’t make things work for me at Webster Golf Club, it wouldn’t probably wasn’t meant to be,” Hocker recalled. . “During our practice round we realized this was going to be a real challenge. As that day progressed the course came in and bit a lot of people. And that forced us to adjust a bit our approach.

“There were places that required aggressive play, but others where you really had to be careful to avoid making major mistakes.”

Playing back-to-back rounds on July 11, Hocker shot 68-69 and finished one shot behind San Diego State medalist Justin Hastings to become one of 312 players to qualify for next week’s event. .

“The timing of all of this couldn’t be better,” Hocker said. “This is my last amateur event and my first chance to compete in an American Amateur Championship. My goal is to put together a good week of golf and hopefully get my name out in front of people as I head towards competing at the professional level.

Competitors will play 18 holes at Ridgewood and another 18 at nearby Arcola Country Club on Monday and Tuesday next week. After those 36 holes, the field will be reduced to the lowest 64 scores for match play to begin on Wednesday. The championship concludes with a 36-hole championship match on Sunday August 21. The tournament winner and runner-up will earn byes to the 2023 US Open Championship at Los Angeles Country Club.

Hocker grew up playing a wide variety of sports, but always had a special attraction for golf.

“At some point you realize where your talent lies,” he said. “Growing up, I played a lot with my grandparents and with my father. I had the chance to see Jordan Spieth play and I had the chance to participate in tournaments with Scottie Scheffler and Wil Zalatoris. J felt the game at the highest level and that’s something that has always appealed to me.

“There are a million different ways to play this game; the key is to believe in yourself and be confident in your abilities. And when the golf course is tough, you really have to keep your head down and keep practicing.