Aaron Pion had done enough wondering and finally decided to ask his father where he was spending the better part of his weekend mornings, when as a middle schooler Pion would watch his father leave the house early in the morning and not return until lunchtime.

“After about a month of that, I finally asked him what he was doing,” Pion said. “He said he’d been out golfing and asked me if I wanted to try it. He started me with an old set of Nike blades, and that was it. I was hooked.”

Pion shot a team-low 77 to help Erskine Academy claim the school’s first Class B state golf title, and for that the junior has been chosen as the 2016 Kennebec Journal Golfer of the Year.

“I am actually really surprised,” said Pion, who didn’t start playing the game regularly until his freshman year. “Out of all the really good golfers in the league, including my own teammates, to have this honor is unbelievable.”

It was not a quick and painless road to the top for Pion. During his sophomore season, while attending Winslow High School, Pion was left without a golf team to compete for. Winslow did not field a team that year, and despite a great deal of legwork, Pion was unable to find another school in the area that could take him on as part of a cooperative effort. Even at Erskine, adding Winslow’s enrollment would have pushed the Eagles into Class A.

He was able to practice some with Erskine during his sophomore season, and play some exhibition matches to prepare to try and qualify for the individual state tournament, but it was a start-and-stop kind of fall that ultimately was unsatisfying.

When he returned to Erskine this year, the environment he craved supported his game.

“He was at Winslow at a tough time. They didn’t even have a team, didn’t have kids playing golf, and it was really tough on him,” Erskine head coach Mark Bailey said. “Our discipline is a little tighter (at Erskine), just because it can be. We’re a private school, and in that sense kids realize that if they don’t toe the line, they can be asked to leave. The kids know that. I really thought that extra little structure was going to be good for Aaron.”

Pion agreed, taking it upon himself to contact the school’s headmaster about coming back. And once the wheels started turning, Pion could barely contain his excitement.

“Being that comfortable definitely did help me,” Pion said. “Even before I came back to Erskine, I told the boys that I was coming back. They said if I came back, we had a real chance at winning states.”

Turns out, they were right.

Bailey said that while Pion’s game might not be as “polished” as some other players’ in the region, confidence makes up for a lot.

“He’s obvioulsy got some natural aptitude, and his hand-eye coordination is there,” Bailey said. “He’s worked really hard at it. The thing I tell him all the time is that not every round is going to be a great round. But what he does have is that confidence to know that he’s played that (low) round. He can go out and struggle and shoot in the 90s, but he’ll go right back out the next day believing he’ll shoot that 75.”

“I got to play with (Waterville native and Husson University golfer) Chris Hamel a bunch over the summer, and he told me I’m one of only people he knows that can hit my tee shot in the woods, hit out of there to within 40 yards of the green, chip on, make the putt and make par,” said Pion, who has tried to embrace the risk-versus-reward philosophy of the game instead of trying to simply overpower golf courses. “I didn’t really change my game, but I have tried to dial it back a little bit. I wouldn’t be 260 (yards) out anymore and take out my 3-wood and say, ‘Boys, I’m going for it.’ “

Pion might not whip the 3-wood out of the bag, but he still plans on going for it. After finishing seventh at in the individual Class B championships, including a four-putt on the final hole, he believes he can compete for the overall title in his senior season.

“I’d like to come back with a lower score in states,” Pion said. “Maybe the cherry on top (of my career) will be to win the team title again and an individual championship, too.”

“I’m exctied for him,” Bailey said. “He’s done everyting I’ve asked of him, and I asked a lot of him. He swallowed a little pride, fell in line, and it paid off for him.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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