As Rafael Padilla walked up to the No. 18 tee box on Friday evening, he started thinking about a wager he and a friend once made.

It’s become a routine.

Padilla approaches the finish of a round of golf and his thoughts immediately go to his friend.

“We made a bet to turn pro together,” Padilla said after his round at the Hillcrest Invitational Pro-Am, at Yankton’s Hillcrest Golf & Country Club.

It very nearly happened, too.

Unfortunately, his friend died in 2015 and Padilla became a professional golfer the following year.

In the years since, Padilla has carried on the legacy of that wager, particularly because his friend was the one who suggested Padilla — who had visions of a professional football career — give golf a try in the first place.

“His and mine were the same,” said Padilla, a 29-year-old from Los Angeles, California.

“I’ve been working hard at it, to be the best I can be at this, because he was the reason I got into golf.”

Until eight years ago, Padilla had visions of making a career out of a different sport. Golf, he said, was never really something he thought about.

“Football and baseball were what you played in my neighborhood,” Padilla said. “There weren’t many kids who golfed.”

A knee injury, however, effectively ended his football career.

“I was working so hard for a football career,” Padilla said. “I felt like I had Division I potential, but that got taken away from me.

“But life brought me to golf, and I’m working just as hard to keep this going.”

All thanks to his friend and his initial suggestion.

Padilla said his memories of his friend come flooding back when he’s out on the course.

“It’s not active thing every day, but most of the time I’ll think about him on the 18th hole,” Padilla said. “I dedicate that last hole to him.”

On the final hole of his round Friday, Padilla had a chance at an eagle but tapped in a putt for a birdie.

“And I gave a mental thumbs up to the kid,” Padilla said.

Pro-Am A ‘Favorite’ For Nohr

Christian Nohr may not golf as much as he did years ago, but when he does, he prefers to make the Hillcrest Invitational Pro-Am one of his stops.

Nohr, a 2011 Crofton (Nebraska) High School graduate, now lives in Dakota Dunes and works for a computer company in North Sioux City. He’s married and has a 1-year-old son, so his golf game at times is put on hold.

“So I play when I have time,” Nohr said Friday, with a smile. “I still play a couple tournaments a year, but this is my favorite.”

Why is that?

“It’s the course, honestly,” Nohr said. “I love the layout and I love the format of this tournament, where you can golf with a different pro every day.”

The pro-am also allows Nohr the chance to golf with Crofton friends Rob Wiebelhaus and Matt Merkel. They all stay at a friend’s home just off the course, which provides convenient and easy access to the course every day of the tournament, according to Nohr.

“I want to make this a regular thing,” he said.

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