Zach Capel and golf appear inseparable.
Capel was swinging a set of plastic clubs at 18 months of age. His father is an accomplished golfer who qualified for last year’s U.S. Senior Open. The younger Capel made his national splash this year, when he represented Grand Canyon University as an all-tournament first team honoree for the National Collegiate Club Golf Association National Championship.
Capel’s golf path was not a direct line but the GCU club golf team, the GCU golf management degree and a late-hitting golf bug coincided to take Capel from toddler talent to senior sensation.
Capel placed fifth at the NCCGA National Championship in late April, helping the Lopes club golf team finish as a national runner-up in its championship debut. Capel works at GCU Golf Course and is a golf management major but he only caught the golf bug seven years ago.
Now, he spends six to seven days per week at GCU Golf Course in one capacity or another, looking to improve with hopes of a career as a player or instructor.
“I always wake up feeling that way,” Capel said.
Capel grew up in Ripon, Calif., a small valley town south of Sacramento known as the almond capital of the world. There are two golf courses there – the town’s municipal course and Spring Creek Country Club, where he worked as a high school senior.
Capel began playing golf competitively as a high school sophomore because he did not want to get forced into the sport. The delay allowed him to be drawn to the sport and then he was hooked. He played one year at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., where he saw a GCU flier and learned more about the university’s club golf and golf management programs.
“I don’t have to have as much commitment as in D-I (NCAA Division I) so I can work, live and get school done,” Capel said. “I still like the grind and how I can try to be better each day. It’s a pretty hard game so you never can be satisfied.”
His father, Dave, also was a late bloomer in golf, taking up the game at age 20. Last year, the real estate broker qualified as an amateur for the U.S. Senior Open. Zach caddied for his father as they met Tom Watson and other legends who the GCU senior studies by watching replays of classic tournaments.
Capel is entering his final Lopes club golf season but already has helped GCU establish its identity nationally. He won the Desert Region tournament individual title this year and finished eighth as an individual qualifier for last year’s NCCGA National Championship.
“One of his best qualities is his ability to bounce back,” GCU club golf coach John Wasson said. “He has the same demeanor all the time – just focused.”
That passion for the game remains the same too. He loves his time on the GCU Golf Course driving range and the pitching and putting practice facilities.
Capel is motivated for next season after the team missed a national championship by two strokes this year and he sat within two shots of the individual lead with five holes remaining in the tournament. The Lopes club golf team has a strong returning nucleus and dozens of new men’s and women’s players showing interest in joining Wasson’s group.
“That (NCCGA National Championship) was pretty special for me because I’ve never been in a national spotlight,” Capel said of the 36-hold tournament featuring 32 major universities, like national champion Georgia, on two courses in Hot Springs, Ark.
“Club golf has been a blast. It’s very relaxed as well as competitive. Our ‘A’ team can shoot low scores and have fun. We engrained the GCU spirit into what we do and live the way God wants us to do.”