Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

Former Sonora Wildcat star Barrett McLaughlin is extending his golf career next season with Simpson University, a private four-year college, in Redding on a partial scholarship.

McLaughlin, 20, played two years at Sierra College in Rocklin under the coaching and direction of PGA Golf Professional Walter Hix III after graduating from Sonora High School in 2012.

As a sophomore this past year, McLaughlin finished second individually in the Big 8 Conference, and also helped the Sierra College men's golf team earn another second place overall finish in conference play.

"It's really exciting that I get to go on from a junior college and be able to play at the next level," McLaughlin said. "Since I was a little kid - basically since I could walk - that's been the plan. Since I really started playing the game more, I wanted to keep playing in college. I just wanted to see how far I can take it."

McLaughlin earned first-team All-Big 8 Conference honors after averaging a 74 throughout the entire 2014 season. The 20-year-old was the only golfer in the conference to not record a score over 80.

But for McLaughlin, that success didn't come easy.

As a freshman at Sierra, McLaughlin said he struggled with consistency. His scores weren't always the same from week to week.

With McLaughlin struggling to find a steady level of play at the JC level, he made the decision to change the approach of his swing in the offseason, which took time and commitment.

"It was more of having trust in my golf swing," he said. "I was inconsistent. I was all over the place. I didn't trust my swing."

After investing countless hours on his swing, McLaughlin's consistency improved, and so did his play on the course.

He shot a season-low 71 at the first Big 8 Tournament at the Stockton Golf and Country Club in mid-February, and his highest score all year was a 78.

At the postseason NorCal Tournament in May, McLaughlin shot a 73 in the first round, but fell short in the second, registering an 83 to miss out on State by losing in the score card playoffs.

"It went really well," McLaughlin said. "It wasn't as great as I wanted. I wanted to have a lower average - shoot even par - but coming off the season I did before, it was night and day. Overall, it was a very successful season."

McLaughlin drew interest from Division II programs Sonoma State, Cal State East Bay, Menlo College and Cal State Northridge, but committed to the NAIA Simpson University.

The Division II teams didn't guarantee McLaughlin a scholarship, and Simpson University did.

"I felt wanted," McLaughlin said. "They wanted me on the team. It felt good to be wanted - where the other schools - it was going to be a gamble to go somewhere if I didn't make the team. I wanted to keep playing golf and go the next level. Simpson gave me that opportunity."

During his time at Sonora, McLaughlin was one of the top golfers in the Wildcats program under head coach Steve Lee. As a senior in 2012, the first-team All-Valley Oak League performer captured the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Tournament as an individual to move on to Masters.

McLaughlin, who was Sonora's No. 1 player for three years, was the first Wildcat golfer to win the Divisional title in Lee's 12 years at the helm.

"It was a great, great effort," Lee said. "I don't know if I ever been prouder of a young man on my team. He not only worked hard at his game, but he worked on the physical part and the mental aspect. Most people that play the game know that it's a huge mental game as well. He was out there practicing all the time."

McLaughlin will have two years of eligibility when he joins the golf program next season. The 20-year-old is already in Redding getting acquainted with the team's home course in unofficial practices, and is planning on majoring in business.

"My goals for my junior year are to keep improving, shoot lower scores, and embrace what I have and go with it," McLaughlin said. "I'm just excited. I get to start a new chapter in my life. I'll see where it takes me. If I go further, then so be it, but it's just a great opportunity to have. Not many get to experience it. It's very humbling."