Finding an inner drive and expanding horizons

High school golf: Wilbert Lynn III's competitive fire illuminates a new approach to the game for city players.

October 11, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Six years ago, Wilbert Lynn III spied a few odd golf clubs in the garage of his family's Pimlico home. Just for fun, he and a friend decided to hit a few balls around the back yard.

"I figured I'd just try it out and see what happened," said Lynn, now 17 and a senior at City College.

That backyard experiment began to unearth not only a passion for the game, but also an exceptional golf talent.

A week later, his father, who started playing at about the same time, took Lynn to Forest Park Golf Course.

"We played a few rounds and the pro came out and watched us. He told me to go get Will a set of good golf clubs, because he could play," said Wilbert Lynn Jr. "I think he was just born to play this game."

At 14, Lynn won the junior club championship at Forest Park Golf Course, beating boys 16 and 17 years old.

Last fall, as the first boy from a Baltimore City school to enter the state high school tournament, he finished 15th in Class 2A-1A but just five strokes back.

In June, he made his big breakthrough, winning the 80th Maryland Junior Amateur Championship. After shooting a 1-under-par 72 in the final round to tie Tyler Bare, Lynn birdied the first hole of sudden death to take the title.

"Not only does he have the talent, but he really comes alive in competitive situations," said Shirley Williams, who coaches Lynn in a club-level golf league for city school students. "When I saw him in the state junior and saw the attitude when he knew he was in a playoff - that's something that you just can't teach, that competitive drive."

Lynn plays several afternoons a week in the club program for city middle and high school boys and girls run by Williams, a teacher and coach at Western and an avid golfer, with help from Forest Park assistant pro Tony Evans.

The city has not offered varsity golf since 1969, but Williams and Evans would like to drum up enough club interest to regenerate a citywide program.

Evans played varsity golf at Douglass, but he said youth interest in the sport waned with the advent of golf carts, because no one needed a caddie anymore. Youngsters who had caddied to make money often became players themselves.

Interest rebounded when Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997.

"When Tiger first burst on the scene, we had 950 kids in the program citywide," said Jon Ladd, director of golf for the Baltimore Municipal Golf Association. "We're down to just over 500 kids officially enrolled. It dropped off from that initial interest Tiger generated."

Rolling past obstacles

This summer, however, interest did pick up at the local courses. Williams sees the potential to keep that interest growing during the school year.

"Interest has to be developed, so we're trying to contact schools where we can go provide a clinic and develop some interest," she said. "A lot of the problem with having one site is the transportation. It's difficult, because most of the kids travel by [MTA] bus."

Still, the club, which meets two or three times a week, has drawn 27 players this fall and remains open to new members until the state championships, Oct. 25-27. Lynn, however, is the club's undisputed star.

On Sept. 11 and 12, Lynn played in his biggest tournament yet, the 10th Bobby Chapman Junior Invitational in Spartanburg, S.C., garnering an invitation for winning the Maryland juniors. His 143 for the two-day tournament tied for 10th in a field of 72 golfers from the eastern United States.

Lynn will compete in two more tournaments this fall - the state high school tournament and the Challenge Cup, which pits Baltimore's top 12 public course players against the top 12 private club players. Lynn is the youngest public links player in this year's Challenge Cup, Oct. 23 and 24 at Mount Pleasant Golf Club and Hillendale Country Club.

To continue improving his game, Lynn last fall began working with Ted Sheftic, one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 teachers in America and head pro at the Hanover Country Club in Abbottstown, Pa.

"I saw immediately that he had tremendous talent - great athleticism," Sheftic said. "What really surprised me was how he can go out with not a lot of experience and win the junior amateur."

Although Lynn has done well locally, including a second-place finish in the Curtis Strange Titleist MAPGA Junior Tour Championship in August, Sheftic said, he lacks national American Junior Golf Association experience.

Still, Lynn has spent a lot of time on the course at Forest Park, watching other players and soaking up every tidbit. He has been a regular at Forest Park since the day he began playing with his dad.

"Sometimes, he would play all day," said Wilbert Lynn Jr. "I had to call my wife and she would say: `No, he's not home yet. You pick him up on your way home.' It'd be about 7:30, and I had dropped him off at 7 in the morning."

His son said, even at 11 years old, he was drawn to the challenge of the game.

"You try to hit the perfect shot and then you try to hit it again," Lynn said. "It's so satisfying when you hit that perfect shot."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.