Rio Rancho High School junior golfer Payton Black certainly isn’t the first student-athlete to play for his father, merely the most recent.
After all, current and former coaches have had that luxury: Wally Salata, David Howes, Ron Murphy, Harvey Carreathers, Mike Santos and Sal Gonzales, for example, have all had their kids play for them.
Like most of them, Payton says Jason Black is his coach on the golf course, his dad when they’re back in the car, headed home, and at home.
That’s the way he likes it.
He seems confident enough in his ability to believe he can become the third Rams individual to win a state championship, as Trent Rommann did in 2001 and Tim Madigan did in 2007. Team-wise, the Rams have been state champs twice: 2005 and 2007, with a runner-up finish in 2006, led by Madigan each time.
On deck for Payton are a few days away from school – he’s headed to Louisiana for the Notah Begay III Junior National Golf Championship.
This summer, Payton shot rounds of 71 and 72 to win the 26-player regional boys’ 16-18 tournament, contested at Twin Warriors – surprise, his favorite course – to qualify for the national event at Koasati Pines at Coushatta in Kinder, La., Nov. 4-6. The course is a par 71 with a total distance of 7,023 yards.
The event will be televised on The Golf Channel.
Naturally, Jason Black had an influence on his son playing golf, although Payton said he played baseball for Eastdale Little League.
“I played both sports as a little kid growing up, and I think that definitely made the transition to golf a lot easier,” he said. Hanging around the Rams links team coached by his dad kept him close to the sport.
He said he first picked up a golf club in 2009, when he was about 3, “and I tried to hit my dad in the front yard, when he walked by.
“The love for it kinda took off, and I couldn’t put a club down.”
Later, he said, “I played PGA Junior League as a little kid over at Sandia Golf Club and our all-star team went to regionals one year, and I (thought), ‘OK, I can do this.’ It was the first time I played on a big stage, tons of people around every teebox and playing kids from Texas … OK, I love this. This is what I want to do.”
In high school competition, Payton’s shown improvement at state: He tied for 35th as a freshman in eighth-grader in 2021, and after he and the Rams failed to qualify in his freshman season of 2022, he tied for fifth last May, helping the Rams as a team place seventh.
In that sophomore season, he earned All-District and All-State honors.
Of all his accomplishments, winning the Begay regional was his best, which he won by three strokes after a three-way tie at 72 after the first day. He carded a 71 the second day.
“On the first tee (the second day), I told myself, ‘I can’t lose this one,’” he remembered thinking. “I felt like I really needed to win and thought that I could.”
Staying in the moment was key, he said.
At Twin Warriors, he loves No. 14, and isn’t so crazy about 17. He’s played the course so often that he can colorfully describe it.
He’s hoping to improve his set of clubs, with something “more workable now.
“Just being able to spin the ball more,” he said, “something even more ‘bladier’ than I have now.”
He’s still looking for his first ace, although during a recent practice round, he had a ball “go in and come out … hit the flag a bunch. I’ve gotten really, really close on a lot.”
His best advice: When your irons aren’t on, or your driver’s not on, you can always get it up by the green, but if you can’t make a putt or if you can’t get it up or down, that’s where all the scoring’s done.”
Basically, that’s known as, “Drive for show, putt for dough.”
He’s hoping to open the eyes of college golf coaches during his final two years with the Rams.
“I think have the skill set and the work ethic for it,” he said. “I think I just have to show up when the time is right. … There is kind of a luck aspect to golf. I think I have to put my best cards on the table and see what happens. I think you have to play with the hand you’re dealt.”
“Being able to execute shots and getting good looks at the hole,” are keys to his success. “I give myself a lot of birdie looks now.”
“I think it’s always been really, really good with my dad,” he said. “Overall, he thinks of himself as a dad first and a coach second. … He coaches me, he doesn’t yell at me or harp on me. After we’re out of that tournament dynamic, we’re at home, he’s back to being a dad. He’s supportive of me. He still loves me at the end of the day.”
“It has been really cool to see his progress from eighth grade to now,” Jason said. “He works extremely hard at golf and in school. He is either at the golf course or at the gym trying to get stronger. It’s been a fine line, being his dad and his coach — I tend to get mad at him for things I don’t get mad at other players for.”
Other dads coaching their sons/daughters can have the same dilemma.
“I have had to learn to step back and just enjoy the time I get coaching him. I am really looking forward to him playing in the NB3 national championship,” he added. “I think it’s going to be a great experience for him. No matter how he does, I will be proud of him.”
His younger brother Andrew, a freshman at RRHS, never got into golf; he’s a football player. “He likes Top Golf, but it’s not really his thing. He likes the physicalness of it.”
Payton, whose favorite pro is Rory McElroy, is hopeful the Rams’ golf program stays competitive, because he’s “super-competitive,” and now it’s “about trying to improve as a team.”