Maryland native Charlie Winegardner makes debut on Web.com Tour at TPC Avenel

The town of Lothian, Md., isn’t really a town at all, but a golf course with two cul-de-sacs jutting out like concrete sand traps. Sure, the tiny community, located 20 minutes from Annapolis, contains other houses and businesses too, but the heart of Lothian beats along the 18 holes at Old South Country Club, founded 23 years ago on family-centric principles, free of restrictions for junior members. “We just wanted the kids to feel comfortable when they came,” said Bob Fretwell, the club’s resident pro. “Like it was their house. Chip and putt and go play, then eat their chicken fingers and drink their sodas.”

It was here, growing up with the first tee box as his back yard, where Charlie Winegardner first learned to play golf. He’s a professional now, young and eager to make an impression at this weekend’s Mid-Atlantic Championship at TPC Potomac, Winegardner’s first event on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit.

Winegardner made the field as a sponsor’s exemption, but can cement his transition from the mini-tour level with a strong showing. A sports psychologist has helped keep Wingardner focused, yet with 25 relatives and friends scheduled to attend, it’s hard to stave off the excitement.

“I’m hitting the ball better than I ever have. It’s just a matter of getting it done,” Winegardner said, fresh off the range inside an empty TPC Potomac dining room. “It’s never been a problem in the past. This is just a pretty big opportunity. More excited, just to be out here.”

An only child, Winegardner was raised around the family’s car dealerships, soaping vehicles for the showroom and playing baseball on the side. Before long, he grew tired of the diamond’s demands, trading his bat for clubs and focusing on golf full-time. Even through high school, Winegardner held clubs with a 10-finger baseball grip, unlike the overlap technique he didn’t learn until college.

A four-time all-county selection at the Calverton School and multi-sport athlete, Winegardner left Lothian for the plush campus of Coastal Carolina University, the alma mater of Dustin Johnson, the world’s 19th-ranked player.

There, Winegardner won two Big South titles and all-conference honors in 2010.

After his senior season, Winegarder stuck around to finish his coursework, intern with his coach’s company and serve as the team’s student assistant coach. He majored in exercise and sports science at Coastal, but always figured that if golf didn’t work out, he’d just return to Lothian and start selling cars in the family business. Not that he intends to hang up the clubs anytime soon.

“Honestly, if I went in the business right now, I’d have no idea what I’d have to do,” he said. “Eventually I’d learn. Hopefully.”

College and professional tournaments have taken him across the country, but Winegardner’s home course will always be Old South. Whenever he returns, he and best friend Joey Rice will crank out 18 holes in three hours then return home for movies and dinner. Competitions were commonplace too, betting $15 or meals on chip shots at the range or putting on the practice green.

Fretwell estimates that “eight to 10 kids” from Old South have played college golf. Only a select few competed at the Division I level, like Rice. After playing for the University of Maryland, he moved into the greenskeeper’s house at Old South, got a job in insurance and competes at the top amateur level. Even fewer, however, advance to Winegardner’s level, where golf becomes a means.

“He competes hard, he’s resilient,” Coastal Carolina Coach Allen Terrell said. “That’s two things a lot of people don’t have. I think he’ll always be better than most, when it comes to those characteristics. I get asked all the time. We’ve put a lot of guys on tour, is this kid going to make it or not? I’d more or less like to say I have no idea . . . I think he definitely has the intangibles to make it.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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