Ponchock is on top of his game

May 01, 1994|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,Sun Staff Writer

A father who got him started, a highly regarded professional teacher, and a strong college coach are part of the scene that has helped vault Del Ponchock into the No. 1 position on one of the most improved college golf teams in the nation.

In the process, Ponchock, a fifth-year senior at the University of Maryland, has developed into one of the top collegians. For the fall-spring season combined, he has competed in eight tournaments, won three, and been out of the top five only once.

Ahead of him are the NCAA Regionals, a likely place in the NCAA championships, and almost-certain All-America recognition. The last was all but confirmed by his selection to the six-man American team that will compete in the annual United States-Japan Student Golf Championship, June 26-July 2, in Chiba, Japan.

Ponchock also has played an important part in restoring respectability to the Maryland golf program. Former players such as Vernon Novak, an Atlantic Coast Conference champion, one-time PGA Tour members Bill Calfee and George Burns and current Tour member Fred Funk helped establish a strong tradition. More recently it had become a laughingstock and perennial ACC doormat.

Two years ago, Tom Hanna was hired as director of golf, and Andy Geiger, the school's athletic director, told him, "You're the coach."

Hanna, a member of the Maryland golf teams of the late 1960s, and recently head golf professional at Harbourtowne Golf Resort in St. Michael's, has turned out to be the right man for the job.

"It was an opportunity to take a losing team and try to turn it into something," Hanna said last week.

"Last year, we finished last in every tournament. This year, our worst finish has been a ninth in the All-American tournament in Houston, where we were in with some of the best teams in the country." There was also a surprisingly strong fifth-place finish in the ACC tournament.

Ponchock was among the first-day conference leaders with a 74, his highest round of the year, then had 69-72, and tied for fourth low individual.

The Mitchellville resident, 22, got his start in golf from his father, a one-time scratch golfer at Prince George's Country Club (now CC of Woodmore), and went on to a solid Junior career in the Washington area. He attracted attention when he won the 1992 Maryland Open, beating a two-time champion (his teacher, Woodmore professional Larry Ringer) and a future champion (1993 winner Glen Barrett) in a sudden-death playoff.

It earned him a place in the 1993 Kemper Open, where he missed the cut after shooting 78-72. Six weeks later, he tied for third in defense of his Maryland Open title.

"Playing in the Kemper did a lot for me. It helped me see how the best players hit the ball," Ponchock, a slender 6-footer, said last week. "Besides, I beat the two players I played with and one, Perry Moss, had been an All-American."

This summer, Ponchock expects to play the Maryland Open as well as some of the major amateur tournaments before deciding on whether to turn professional. "That's up in the air right now," he says.

Tournament change

The local qualifying round for the Maryland State Golf Association's Amateur and Open championships, originally set for May 23, at the CC Maryland, will now be held May 31 at

Wakefield Valley GC in Westminster.

This week's schedule

Today -- Eastern Intercollegiates (final round), Hog Neck GC, 8 a.m.

Tomorrow -- Middle Atlantic PGA Northern Chapter Assistants championship, CC Woodmore, 8 a.m.

Tuesday -- Women's Golf Association, Chartwell CC, 9 a.m.

Friday -- Maryland State two-man team championship, Kenwood CC, 8 a.m.; Women's Golf Association team matches, various sites, 9 a.m.

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