For a youth who started his golf career seven years ago with a 18-hole round of 165, Jack Skilling shows little surprise that he's developed into possibly the best junior player in the Washington area.
"I always play with better players - the pros in the shop, the best players around," explained Skilling, 17, who carries a handicap of one. "Plus I'm a quick learner. I'm lucky to have the ability to pick it up quickly. That's where the natural ability comes in."
Skilling's career started with his father in a father-son tournament at Chevy Chase Country Club where he scored his bloated 165 with a set of women's clubs. He started playing every day and by the end of the summer of 1971, Skilling had halved his score and acquired the set of 1965-model clubs that he still uses.
By the time Skilling was 13, he "could beat everybody. I got good so quickly," he said. The long list of tournament titles backs his claim. In 1974, at age 14, he won the Chevy Chase Club men's crown, an achievement he repeated in 1976. He is the reigning titlist of the Middle Atlantic Junior Open, which he won by 12 strokes with 74-69-143, the Maryland State Junior Tournament and the area Tournament of Junior Champions, which he captured with a round of 68.
Skilling, who was graduated from St. Albans school on June 3, took the Insterstate Athletic Conference individual medal during each of his three high school years. His overall play in 1977 included a two-over-par 73-67-78-218, which gave him low amateur and sixth-place overall in the Middle Atlantic Open professional tournament, and caused him to be named "Junior Golfer of the Year" by Frank Emmet, who administers the area youth golf program.
Skilling thinks the three sub-70 rounds he shots during these tournaments, his first ever in formal competition, mark the most recent improvement in his game.
"Usually, I shoot a good nine (holes) after shooting a bad nine. It took a while to put it together," said Skilling, who resides at 34 West Kirke St. in Chevy Chase. "Shooting a sub-par (below par) round like that (below 70) takes more than good playing. You really have to think. I think I can do it now.
"It used to be I was a good, long, straight driver and a lousy short player, but I think I've brought my short game up even with my long game. It's just that consistency that I'm after."
Skilling credits much of his success to the instruction of Tim Schaaf, who was the club pro at Chevy Chase and remains a friend. Bob Andreoli, the golf coach at St. Albans, said this education was evident in Skilling's play.
"He's got a good swing. He's got the perfect build for a golfer," Andreoli said of his star, who stands 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighs about 185 pounds. "He got good instruction when he was young. The mechanics of his game were set (when he started playing for St. Albans) and they were right. A lot of youth golfers are set in the way they play, and they're wrong."
Skilling will take his golf swing to Stanford University in the fall, where he will not be on scholarship, but could earn one eventually through his play. He first became interested in attending Stanford when he played nine holes in a fivesome in 1975 with star professional golfer Tom Watson, who was a All-American while competing for the California institution. Skilling thinks that at Stanford, where he will have to battle for a place on the team, he will discover if he's good enough to become a professional golfer.
"I could have gone to (University of) North Carolina and been pampered and wlways played, but I could have gotten by playing under my potential," said Skilling, who also enjoys painting in his free time. "At Stanford, I'll have to play to my potiential. There I'll always be pushed. That's why I picked there - to see how good I am. Plus, I'll be getting away from here. All of my accomplishments have come around here. The great junior players play all around the country.