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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Garces High's Christian Sanders keeps an eye on his shot on the 15th during the Central Section CIF team golf championship in Porterville. 15th group 1

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Garces High's Christian Sanders pops out of the sand trap on the 16th hole at Buena Vista Golf Course during the Area Golf Championships Monday.

More than a year ago, Christian Sanders decided it was time for a lifetsyle change.

At the end of his junior football season at Garces, Sanders weighed more than 300 pounds. That's when he decided to begin a vigorous exercise program and change his diet.

Now at 205, Sanders found himself with more energy, strength and flexibility for his senior year of golf at Garces High School.

Already a solid golfer before the weight loss, Sanders saw a dramatic improvement in his game his senior year.

The Californian's All-Area Golfer of the Year, Sanders had a 71.6 stroke average, by far the best of any area golfer.

He led Garces with a 75 at the Central Section team championships at Porterville, shot a 78 at the Central Section Individual Championships to qualify for the Southern Regional, where his 73 led all Kern County participants. He missed a playoff for a state meet berth by two strokes.

"He's got tremendous work ethic," said Garces coach Nick Vallejo. "He loves to practice, He shoots those scores because of his hard work. In my three years at Garces, he's by far the hardest working kid I've ever coached."

Sanders had to overcome another hurdle: Because he played football, he wasn't able to concentrate all his energies on golf.

He was a starter at left tackle his junior year, then a two-way starter after losing about 75 pounds between his junior and senior years.

Sanders said he doesn't regret playing football. He helped the Rams win the Division II title last fall.

"We had so many returning guys, and we looked really good," he said. "I had a strong relationship with those guys.

But playing football all four years likely delayed the start of his college golf career. He hopes to eventually receive a golf scholarship offer.

“I am going to play collegiate golf,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately, playing football really hurt me golfing-wise from being recruited.  I didn’t play in enough big-time tournaments to get my name out there, so not many college coaches are recruiting me.”

He’s trying to make up for that this summer by playing in different Southern California Golf Association events and at various city championships.

Sanders said his strength as a player for the Rams this season was his consistency. His worst score of the season was an 81 at the Stockdale Invitational early in the season.

“After I shot that 81, I told myself I would never shoot that again,” he said. “I shot a 68 at RiverLakes the next week.”

Throughout the season, Sanders said he was pushed by teammates Will Naworski and Johnny Hathaway.

“We’d be at practice and battle to beat each other,” Sanders said. “It made us all stronger. That showed throughout the season, especially at the end.”

And he was aided by Vallejo and his swing coach, Mike Schy from Fresno.

“Mike Schy has been my swing coach for a year and a half,” Sanders said. “I came to him because I struggle with my short game. He’s the short-game guru.”

Sanders plans to grayshirt at Bakersfield College this fall and won’t play golf for the Renegades.

A grayshirt means an athlete takes fewer than 12 units, which prevents the so-called NCAA “clock” from starting. 

Once the “clock” begins, an athlete has five years to complete four years of eligibility.

“I want to keep my four years of eligibility. That’s the point of grayshirting,” Sanders said. “Hopefully I’ll be picked up by some D-I school.”

He had a 4.3 grade-point average at Garces, so he can immediately transfer to a D-I school and be eligible immediately.

Because he’s no longer playing football, Sanders can play golf all the time.

“Not having those six months off will be a lot of help,” he said. “I can practice year-round and keep building my game. It’s going to be interesting to see where I am in a year.”