Some 18 years ago, TJ Shuart showed up at Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High ready to make his mark in athletics.
“I went there as an aspiring football and basketball player,” Shuart recalled.
Sometimes, plans just don’t work out.
St. Thomas Aquinas, as even casual observers of high school sports well know, has been a powerhouse in high school sports — particularly in football and basketball — for years.
“I quickly learned that my body was not quite ready for either of those sports,” Shuart said with a laugh.
A change of plans was necessitated and Shuart, then 14, decided to focus his athletic ambitions on golf. To this day, his body appreciates the decision — far fewer bruises and broken appendages.
Now, at age 32, Shuart knows his decision was a wise one as he has become one of the state’s top amateur golfers. That status was reinforced this past weekend when Shuart, still living in Fort Lauderdale, won the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, an event for amateurs 25 years of age or older.
Over the years, Shuart has won three Broward Amateurs, four Florida State Golf Association events (two this year), qualified for 11 national USGA championships, played in five U.S. Mid-Amateurs and has teed off in four U.S. Amateurs.
Shuart’s victory this past weekend at Sara Bay Country Club in Sarasota was a marathon effort, playing two 18-hole match-play competitions on both Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, he defeated Mount Dora’s well-regarded Jon Veneziano 6 and 5 in the morning semifinal and Tampa’s Brian Armstrong 3 and 1 in the afternoon championship match.
Shuart proudly calls himself “a career amateur.”
After attending St. Thomas as a youngster, Shuart went away to play college golf at Loyola in Maryland before returning to Florida. “I wasn’t that good when I started at Aquinas, but by the time I graduated I was good enough to be a Division I player,” he said.
Shuart is completely content with his amateur status and his success at that level, although he sometimes has to explain to people the concept of amateur golf, let alone mid-amateur golf. “People see and hear that you are good at golf, and they don’t understand why you aren’t playing professionally,” he said. “You play golf and you don’t earn any money — they don’t comprehend that.”
However, Shuart comprehends it perfectly. He just enjoys having a golf club in his hands.
Many of the top teams in Florida, and some from other states, competed in the Honda Classic High School Invitational this past weekend at PGA National Resort & Spa. The tournament often gives insight into the upcoming state high school meet a few weeks away.
Circle Christian of Winter Park won the girls’ team title, with Broward’s Archbishop McCarthy finishing second six strokes back. Defending state champion Plantation American Heritage of Broward was fifth, 31 strokes off the lead. Brooke Benedetto of McCarthy was the top South Florida finisher, taking third at 1-over-par 145 and three shots off the lead.
In the boys’ competition, Lone Peak of Utah took first place by 14 strokes with Kings Academy of Palm Beach in third and Plantation American Heritage in sixth place. Top South Florida finishers were Andrew Kozan of Kings Academy in fifth place at 1-under 143 and Ty Strafaci of American Heritage at 2-over 146.