Playing golf at the collegiate level always seemed like destiny for Clark Van Gaalen of Turlock, one of the most highly touted golf prospects in the nation. He began playing the sport when he was six and has been playing in the Kids World Championships since 2017, where he has won two titles. He was named the Junior Golf Association of North California Player of the Year in 2021 and 2022.
It’s easy to see why University of Oklahoma men's golf coach Ryan Hybl and his staff reached out to Van Gaalen as soon as they could when the recruitment period began in June 2022. Less than six months later, Van Gaalen verbally committed to the school, and on Nov. 8, he made it official as he signed his National Letter of Intent during a ceremony at Turlock High School.
“It was a big day,” he admitted, which says a lot considering he has traveled the country and has rubbed shoulders with professional golfers like Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day. “It’s a fun process getting recruited, talking to everybody, traveling, doing all that stuff, but it's also good to lock it in and get back to focusing on my actual game.”
And the game is impressive.
At Turlock High, the 18-year-old has helped lead the Bulldogs to three consecutive Central California Athletic League titles and is the three-time defending CCAL Most Valuable Player. Outside of the local high school scene, he has played in well over 500 tournaments in his youth career. This past year, he had four top-eight finishes in World Amateur Golf Ranking-counting events, including a win at the Brandon Wu Championship. He finished as the runner-up at the 2023 Billy Horschel Junior Championship and grabbed bronze at the SERI PAK Desert Junior.
Standing at 6-foot-4, Van Gaalen is currently ranked as the No. 21 golfer in the 2024 class by Golfweek. He is ranked 38th overall in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
"Clark has all of the tools to be one of the best golfers in the country," Hybl said. "We really think that he is just scratching the surface of what his game can be. He's super long off the tee but then has a great putter and is solid around the greens. We're thankful he took a chance on us and is ready to move across the country to be part of something special here in Norman."
Under Hybl, the Sooners have appeared in 12 straight NCAA Championships, winning the past two seasons. Van Gaalen is looking forward to helping extend that streak when he heads to Norman next school year.
“Hybl is awesome,” Van Gaalen said. “All the coaches are great and the fact that Hybl isn’t leaving, he said he’s committed to staying for the coming years, it was important to me. Also the location is big with the school only being two hours from the East Coast… Being able to play against tougher competition and on different courses is big.
“I want the competition, playing in the tournaments and playing the game. Just shaping up to be a better professional.”
As for the remainder of his high school career, Van Gaalen will try to soak it in as much as possible while trying to earn a clean sweep of CCAL championships and MVPs in his four years.
“I want to just enjoy it and be with friends,” he said. “Some of these guys, I’m probably not really ever going to see again. But while they're here, you know, we’ll try to take in the experience and hopefully continue to win.”