Son, UM reborn in father's image

Golf: Terps' Miguel Rivera, son of Maryland great Pedro, has developed a renewed feel for the game since overcoming the pain of his father's death.

May 20, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- When Tom Hanna was a freshman at the University of Maryland, he lived with some of his golf teammates in rooms above the pro shop. One was a fifth-year senior who had helped the Terrapins in 1964 win what remains their only Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

His name was Pedro Rivera.

"Pete kind of took me under his wing," recalled Hanna last week.

More than three decades later, Hanna is the Terrapins' coach and an athlete named Rivera once again figures in the improved performance of the golf program. Today Maryland enters its first NCAA tournament since 1994, one of 23 teams invited to the East Regional in Providence, R.I.

Maryland last made the national portion of the NCAA Championships in 1976, finishing ninth.

Senior Miguel Rivera of Bel Air (John Carroll) is the Terps' hottest player going into the postseason, having shot rounds of par or better six times in Maryland's past three tournaments. He is fresh off the first victory of his college career at the Furman Intercollegiate two weeks ago, where he won a five-hole playoff.

Hanna had heard about Miguel's talent from his longtime friend, Pedro, Miguel's father. The two had stayed in touch as Hanna tried his hand on the Canadian and PGA tours for a number of years and then returned to his alma mater as director of golf in 1991. Shortly after becoming coach in 1993, he started recruiting the younger Rivera.

Miguel Rivera would become Hanna's first national recruit. The summer after his freshman year at Maryland, his father, Pedro, died of cancer in his mid-50s.

"Miguel and his dad were as close as two people can be," Hanna said. "When Pete died, I think Miguel was in denial. But he got very moody. His golf suffered. I didn't play him in his last three tournaments that fall because I thought I was going to lose him academically."

Said Rivera: "I didn't know how to deal with those issues. When someone close to you dies, you don't know what to do. There was a lot of soul-searching. I didn't care too much about golf."

Rivera showed much improvement as a junior with three top-10 finishes, including a fourth place at the Palmetto Classic. Last fall he had the second-best average on the team (72.5) and figured on a respectable finish for his career this spring.

"I got into position coming into this year that I could have made a bid for All-America," said Rivera, 22. "I let it slip at the beginning of the season and I didn't play too well. Sometimes when you want something too much, you try too hard. I think that's what happened."

After playing poorly in a tournament in March, Rivera began reading some notes he had saved since age "10 or 11," when his father gave Miguel lessons at the old Edgewood Golf Club.

It was a scene similar to that of PGA Tour star Davis Love before winning the PGA Championship two summers ago. Not only did Love turn the notes of his late father into a book, but also his first victory in a major. Miguel Rivera doesn't have such lofty goals.

"Individual stuff doesn't mean that much to me right now," said Rivera, who is third on the team in scoring at 74.2, behind juniors Keith Unikel of Potomac (72.3) and Gary Mankulish of Laurel (73.6). "It would be great to win [the NCAA individual title], but I want the team to do well."

This has been a breakthrough season for Maryland. The Terrapins, who have finished in the top six in each of their seven tournaments and in the top three in four of them, are ranked 31st. (Georgia is No. 1 in the national rankings released yesterday.)

"I expected it," said Hanna, a 1971 graduate. "We played extremely well last spring. We had a couple of seconds and a third at the end of the season and we had everyone coming back."

The Terrapins have overcome a number of obstacles to get this far. Hanna found out over the winter that Ed Flowerdew, who finished the fall season third behind Unikel and Rivera, had opted to spend the spring working on his last 18 credits needed to graduate.

Then came injuries to Rivera and Unikel.

"Miguel popped a hernia at the Old Dominion tournament," said Hanna. "He pushed it back in and played 36 holes in extreme pain. It was that kind of guts, where Miguel was really hurt but he came through for the team, that sort of sums of what these guys have done."

The Terrapins' revival comes at a time when the Maryland players are seeing the potential of a program that could compete with ACC rivals such as Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina. The finishing touches are being put on a $2.5 million clubhouse that includes office space for Hanna.

Just as Rivera's father was once part of building Maryland into an ACC power, Miguel Rivera is happy to be a key contributor to the program's revival. It has been a tumultuous four years for him personally, and he looks forward to taking some time off from golf in the fall to finish his degree in business.

But he is in no rush to start grinding. "That year off can do me a world of good," he said. "I'm not that far off."

Hanna has literally watched Miguel grow up, more so since Pedro Rivera's death.

"I don't know if he'll ever get over it," Hanna said. "But I know when we go to the NCAAs he'll be playing for his dad."

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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