By the time Sam and Adam Hoffer reached the final hole at the tiny KickingBird golf course in Edmond, Okla., the sun had usually set and the brothers would be hitting blindly at the 18th green. Sam was 12 at the time, and the matches were intense.
"We paid $7 to play that course, and when we finished, it was always pitch black outside," Adam Hoffer said. "I remember how competitive we were. Sam had no give-up even then."
Now a senior at Northern and the defending Southern Maryland Athletic Conference champion, Sam Hoffer has become one of the top golfers in the state. And Adam will compete for Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
All those years ago, Adam could sense his brother's potential.
"We'd come home and tell our dad our scores, and we'd be excited when we finally broke 90, and then broke 80 and just kept improving."
Sam has shaved his handicap to a 2 from the 10 or 12 he had when he moved to the area before his freshman season, and he is poised to make a run at the state individual title after a seventh-place finish last season. He was a big reason Northern finished second in the state as a team last season, when he won the SMAC individual championship with an even-par 70 at White Plains Golf Course.
Hoffer has crafted a disciplined approach and a strong short game, traits that can be uncommon for golfers of his age.
"I always tell my guys that it is all about what you do from 100 yards and in, and Sam is so good at it," said Northern Coach Rob Halstead. "Plus, it's really about determination with Sam. Even if he's not playing 100 percent, he has that knack for grinding out a number and never letting it snowball."
Halstead said Hoffer is one of the few high school golfers who knows when to use a 3-wood or iron instead of a driver when accuracy is more important than distance. He tries to play the smart shot. For instance, at a dry University of Maryland golf course last year during the state tournament, Hoffer drew from his experience playing on the hard, flat courses in Oklahoma. Instead of sending shots off the back of the greens, he would play short and let the ball roll.
He hopes his approach will rub off on his teammates.
"Really, it's just a matter of us being patient," Hoffer said. "I don't have any control over how they strike it, but we need to do a good job of playing smart."
With his father in the Navy, Hoffer moved around a bit. He originally lived in Maryland before moving to Japan, Oklahoma, Hawaii, back to Oklahoma and finally to Maryland, where he settled at Northern before his freshman year.
He sat out the first season, often a pivotal year for young golfers, after breaking his leg while playing soccer. He got antsy watching his older brother compete and was back on the range even before his cast was removed.
Huntingtown Coach Jim Hall, who was Northern's head coach at the time, remembers his first competitive swing of the next season.
"It was at White Plains, and he drove one deep left into the woods, and I thought there was absolutely no way out from where he put it," Hall said. "Then his next shot was on the green, and he was looking at a birdie putt.
"Sam finds a way to make the right shot."
Over the past few years, Hoffer has developed from a golfer with a talent for getting out of trouble to one who doesn't need to.
He has eliminated a lot of the excess movement from his swing by watching hours of videotape with his longtime coach -- his brother.
"It's a mutual thing," Sam Hoffer said. "We just set up a net and a video camera in the back yard and hit balls. If anything is off, the other one knows it.
"Really, we're each other's best swing coach."
He plans to play golf in college. And, just maybe, make a run at the individual state title.
"I finished seventh last year," Hoffer said. "And I've heard that five or six of those guys ahead of me graduated.
"If I really play my best and stay focused, I think I could have a chance."