Tiger factor helps school teams

Golf no longer 'nerdy', as level of play improves

September 02, 1999|By Bo Smolka | Bo Smolka,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

High school golf coaches call it the "Tiger Woods phenomenon."

Thanks to the soaring popularity of the 23-year-old professional and other young golfers, such as 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, of Spain, more and more youngsters are taking up the game.

Once the domain of the Chess Club-crowd, high school golf is now chic. "Young people are really getting pumped about golf," said Towson High co-coach Gerry Brewster. "It's not the nerdy thing it used to be. It's now kind of a cool sport."

As a result, many coaches are dealing with record numbers at tryouts. Where coaches used to struggle to fill rosters, they are now turning players away. Brewster said 20 players tried out for the Towson team. At Westminster, 31 players tried out.

Most teams carry about 12 players. Eight compete in dual matches, six scoring.

Interest also has been stoked, coaches say, by high-profile tournaments in the area, like the USGA Girls Junior Amateur Championships in Owings Mills last month, and by summer junior leagues at local clubs.

The clubs "finally got the message," said Westminster coach Jeff Ibex, "that if they get the kids playing young enough, they'll keep playing at their clubs as adults."

All this interest has had a predictable effect on high-school level competition. "You are seeing more and more good players," said Arundel coach Carol Nutt.

Maryland public-school golf is split into two divisions by enrollment, Class 1A-2A and Class 3A-4A. And when the public school state tournies are played at College Park Oct. 18 and 19, several area teams figure to be in contention.

Westminster is the reigning Class 3A-4A champ in District V, which includes schools from Carroll, Anne Arundel, Harford and -- unofficially -- Howard counties. The Owls, fifth at the state championship last year, return four top players, led by junior Jon-David Byers and sophomore John Wah.

North Carroll, with four sophomores, reached the state tournament for the first time last year. The Panthers' top player is junior Carli Gordon, one of the area's best scholastic girls.

There are no specific girls golf teams, so girls compete with boys, playing from the forward tees. Gordon finished fourth among girls at the state meet last year.

Another front-runner among the girls is Arundel's Calli Vance. As a freshman last year, Vance finished second at the state championship meet. In July, she won the PGA Junior Mid-Atlantic Championship in Reston, Va.

Mount Hebron and Francis Scott Key tied for the District V 1A-2A title last year, but this season, Mount Hebron -- and every other Howard County team -- could be left in the clubhouse.

Howard County dropped golf after the 1994 season. Since then, Howard students have played in an alliance known as the Howard County Golf Club, which has competed in district and state tournaments.

But that may change.

Ibex, the District V representative to the state golf tournament committee, said concern is growing about the liability associated with non-sanctioned players at official tournaments.

In District VI, which comprises Baltimore County schools, perennial favorite Dulaney is again the team to beat in Class 3A-4A.

In District VI Class 1A-2A, Pikesville -- third in the district behind Towson and Hereford -- is coming off a runner-up finish in the state tournament last year. Senior Andy Hoffman is the Panthers' number one player, and his freshman brother, Steven, could make the top four.

Towson, which will be led by senior Steve Doherty, gained a solid transfer in sophomore Andrew Rice from Calvert Hall. Hereford reached the state tournament last year behind Brandon Mourges, the District VI individual champion as a freshman.

Pub Date: 9/02/99

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