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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Tyler Burnes of Cenntennial tees off and takes some of the grass with the ball on April 3. High school golfers played in the SWYL Golf Tournament at the Buena Vista Golf Course.

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Leadership, especially in the realm of sports, is like a fine wine: Both get better with time.

In high school, it's rare to see an underclassman step up and take the reins of his team.

Centennial junior Tyler Burnes upset that applecart this past season, commanding his squad with a precocious maturity and solid consistency. And though his Golden Hawks team didn't reach the heights he would've liked, Burnes -- The BVarsity Boys Golfer of the Year -- nonetheless turned an impressive spring campaign.

"It was a good season," Burnes said. "I was happy with the way I played -- I thought I could've played a little bit better, but I played good enough to be the best (in the area) and accomplish my goals."

It was indeed a solid junior year for Burnes, who lead the Southwest Yosemite League in scoring average (75.0), won the South Area meet with a sizzling 1-under-par 71 and placed third at the section championships, carding a 2-over 74 at the Riverbend Golf Club in Madera.

But his best performance of the season came at, paradoxically, his most disappointing event. After qualifying for the CIF Southern California Regional tournament for the second consecutive year, Burnes was once again left on the outside looking in. This time around, he was agonizing close to securing a coveted spot at the state championships, missing entry into a playoff by one stroke.

Burnes was frustrated but chose to have a positive outlook on his outing.

"Just knowing that I could be that close when I really didn't have a good day really encouraged me to play well next year," he said.

Burnes' on-course mastery wasn't the only thing that stood out to first-year Centennial coach Doug Hicks, who praised his golfer's maturity, preparation and leadership.

"He's got an amazing work ethic," Hicks said. "He knows how to prepare for courses. A lot of high school kids are just preparing their game; he'll actually prepare and apply some mental approach to whatever course that week's tournament is at. That really ties into his maturity; he just knows how to prepare for these things.

"...When I assigned him the (captaincy), he took it on and did well with it. He led by example, and I was proud of him doing that as a junior, showing that commitment."

That commitment was cemented last offseason, when Burnes consulted with a new swing coach, who worked on tightening and straightening the right-hander's shots. The new approach -- which centered on accuracy instead of distance -- paid off in a big way, as he lowered his regular season scoring-average by nearly two strokes, 76.8 to 75.0.

Another big reason for Burnes' quick progression has been the development of his mental game. Players spend infinitely more time thinking about the next shot than actually taking it, so a negative mindset can ruin a round. Burnes has tried to combat these types of on-course emotions.

"Letting myself recover from bad shots and making a good score on a hole even though I might be having a bad day (is important)," Burnes said. "Just staying positive all the time, and making sure I'm always up-beat. Not really down on myself. Not getting mad at anything. Just staying positive and looking forward to the next shot."

Burnes' next shot will come next spring, when the Centennial senior will gun for a state berth for the third time. It figures to be a tough-but-winnable battle for a player who keeps getting better and better with time.

"He's basically accomplished everything here in the Valley, and I'd like to see him make it to state," Hicks said.