For Georgetown Prep's Denny McCarthy, the 'sky's the limit' on the links.
Saturday, August 21, 2010; 8:05 PM
During a recent practice round, Denny McCarthy made birdie on nine of the holes he played. He nearly had his first career hole-in-one, when his nine-iron hit the pin on the fly.
But the only time McCarthy got excited to see where his shot was headed was when he bombed his drive through the fairway and behind a line of trees, which required the three-time All-Met from Georgetown Prep to play like a regular hack.
"I've got this shot," McCarthy said confidently.
He then punched his ball back into the fairway, chipped to within 15 feet and rolled in the par putt.
It was a rare occasion that McCarthy found trouble on the golf course this summer. The 17-year-old has put together one of the finest seasons ever for a Washington-area junior golfer. Monday morning, he will tee off in the 110th U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
"I feel he has accomplished more than anyone else has coming through," said former DeMatha golf coach Ben Spotts, who still follows local junior golf. "He looks like a pro - his mannerisms, his approach to the game. There is a certain swagger, just something different I see about him from the other kids."
McCarthy, the All-Met Player of the Year last spring, won the Maryland Junior Open and the Maryland Open. He advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, losing in a sudden-death playoff. Then he won the Junior PGA Championship, earning a berth on the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team that will play next month in Scotland.
He followed that by shooting a staggering 63-65-128 to finish 14 under par and easily place first in the Williamson Cup, a junior team tournament in Essex, Ontario. McCarthy birdied 16 of the event's 36 holes.
And that practice round with the par save? McCarthy finished with a 9-under 62, tying the course record at Argyle Country Club, which was set by longtime pro Peter Jacobsen.
"Yeah, I'm playing well, but the summer isn't over," McCarthy said. "I can make it a special summer. But that's talk. I have to go out and do it."
So far, McCarthy has made things look easy. His game is not terribly flashy. At 5 feet 9, he's not the longest hitter off the tee, but he hits a driver plenty far. He then grooves precision-like iron shots and takes advantage of opportunities with his short game.
"A lot of juniors strike the ball," said McCarthy, whose older brother, Ryan, was an All-Met golfer in 2007 and now plays for Loyola (Md.). "The difference is from 100 yards and in - hitting greens and making putts.
"The area I've improved the most is in golf course management, getting around and shooting a score. Even when I don't have my best stuff I can scrape it around and get a score."
Though he has one more year of high school remaining, McCarthy already has accepted a scholarship offer to play for the University of Virginia. He insists he will play four years of college golf, then take whatever comes next.
But with a player so talented, turning professional would seem a viable option at some point, possibly sooner rather than later. After all, golf is a fickle game, where a player's wavering confidence can significantly alter his play.
"We haven't talked about it a lot," said his father, Dennis. "If you wanted to be the editor of The Washington Post sports page or be the next president, I've always believed you have to dream it. You don't wake up one day and it happens. I think Denny has had that dream."
Said Denny: "Who wouldn't want to go pro? I wanted to go pro in basketball, too. But now I realize that can't happen."
Unlike other elite junior golfers, McCarthy takes a few months off each year. Some Washington-area players migrate south for the winter because the cold weather makes it difficult to maintain and improve their game. McCarthy, on the other hand, trades in his golf spikes for a pair of high-tops and plays guard for the Georgetown Prep basketball team, which finished last season ranked 20th in The Post's poll.
"He's always been pretty grounded and we try to keep that," Dennis McCarthy said. "Last year, I almost had to push Denny to play basketball in September and October - 'You've always put the clubs down.' It keeps him in good shape and anxious to get back on the golf course. I think that helps."
When he resumes playing golf, McCarthy plays nearly every day. He isn't fanatical about training or practice regimes, doesn't worry about his diet and feels that he has plenty of strength and flexibility without getting in the weight room outside of basketball season.
As for working on his game, he prefers to play 9 or 18 holes and drop a few extra balls around the course to getting on the driving range.
"He actually thinks he can make everything and more often than not he does," said Mike Barillo, the club pro at Argyle, McCarthy's home course. "What sets him apart is his tenacity, he's just so tough mentally.
"The sky's the limit, there's no question about it. Just look at the numbers he is shooting."