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La Jolla Athlete of the Week: Michael Behr brings drive to the driving range

Bishop's School junior Michael Behr transitioned to golf at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop’s School junior Michael Behr had spent most of his high school career playing soccer but transitioned to golf at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Dave Siccardi)

If there is anyone who has made the most of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s The Bishop’s School golfer Michael Behr. Unlike most golfers at his level, who have been playing since they could walk, Michael went from playing casually with his father to being ranked in the top 25 by CIF and competing in national tournaments this past year.

Michael, a junior, had spent most of his high school career playing soccer but transitioned to golf at the onset of the pandemic, when soccer fields were closed but golf courses were open.

“I had played soccer since I was in third grade and would play golf once every two months with my dad, but I never took it seriously until eighth grade,” he said. “Then I got the bug. When my soccer team fell apart because a lot of team members that left, and then the pandemic shut everything down, it felt like a calling for me to spend more time golfing, because that was the only thing open. The summer of 2020, I was at the course every day and got pretty good scores up.”

While uncertain as to what exactly propelled him to success so quickly, Michael said likely able to build on the strength and head-in-the-game focus he developed playing other sports.

“When I was younger, I played other sports like baseball and basketball, … I think all those sports helped me prepare for golf,” he said. “Golf is one of those sports that uses the muscles you never used before, so when you play other sports earlier, it helps you get used to using those muscles. For example, I’m a long hitter in golf, and that comes from my legs and hips working quickly; the lower body is the most important. So by playing soccer, my lower body was the strongest.”

Further, Michael said, being able to keep focus and a good attitude is crucial.

“I feel like golf is one of these sports where if you have confidence and your mental game is good, I think you can become a good golfer,” he said. “You are always going to hit bad shots, but you can’t get mad about them because it will probably affect your next shot. Keeping a strong mental game is important when it comes to golf. For any sport, you aren’t going to get anywhere if you are not confident.”

His golf coach at Bishop’s, David Payne, noted while high schoolers switch sports all the time, it is difficult to switch sports at such a high level.

“Currently Michael is ranked in the top 25 individuals in the CIF rankings, which is out of 500-plus golfers,” Payne said. “This isn’t achieved without a strong work ethic, drive and passion for improving his craft.”

Whatever it is, it worked.

Michael is now being recruited by Division 1 colleges and was selected to represent San Diego Junior Golf in the prestigious Hogan Cup played in August in Portland, Ore. He also qualified for the California Amateur Golf Championship, to be played at the Preserve Golf Club in Carmel this month.

And while he is uncertain as to which college program he will enter, Michael knows he’ll want to play golf there.

“When I was little, I saw myself as an athletic kid and knew I wanted to play a sport in college. I didn’t think it would be golf, but I knew I would play in college. This turned out to be the sport I’m best at and love the most,” he said.

And the skills he picks up on the green translate into life, he said.

“For me, it’s going out every day when you never know what to expect. You can shoot six under or five over [par]. If you hit a good shot, it doesn’t mean a good outcome. The wind could pick up or there could be a bad bounce,” Michael said. “It’s also one of those sports where you could play with a 60-year-old or a 17-year-old. I feel like keeping all this in mind has made me more mature and sets me up for the future.” ◆