When Jim Cangiano was 8, he was leading a 10-year-old in the Potomac Valley Country Club's junior club championship. Midway through his round, Cangiano slipped into a creek and became covered with mud.
Cangiano lost his concentration, his momentum and the club title. But nine years after encountering one of the toughest obstacles he will ever meet on a course, Cangiano has become one of the Washington area's top junior golfers.
At the start of this summer, Cangiano entered the Mount St. Mary's Pro-Am, which had several top area professionals in the field. He not only won the junior division, he tied the low pro with a 2-under-par 70.
"I knew then that I would have a good summer," said Cangiano.
Since that impressive win, Cangiano has won three other tournaments and was among the top four in three others.
Last week at Congressional, he shot or tied for the lowest round each day en route to winning the Washington Metropolitan Golf Association Junior Open.
He has also captured the Pro-Junior at Rocky Point, where he devastated the field to win by six strokes. Earlier this summer, he won the prestigious Bobby Bowers at Springfield, where he was two strokes down with four holes left in the final match and eventually won on the first hole of a sudden death playoff with Troy Ferris.
Cangiano, who will be hard to beat when Washington area junior of the year honors are decided, attributes his success to a tip from Mike McGinnis, the club pro at Holly Hills in Ijamsville.
"When you teach juniors, you teach them to have a strong grip," said McGinnis. "But Jimmy's developed a lot of power and he was hooking the ball, so I weakened his grip."
The suggestion had an immediate effect. Playing for the team at Poolesville High, where he will be a senior and captain of the golf team for the fourth straight year, Cangiano this spring cut four strokes off his game and trimmed his handicap to one.
And in the nonsensical terminology of golf, the weakened grip resulted in added distance. At 5 feet 8 and only 140 pounds, Cangiano hits his driver an average of 265 yards.
Cangiano's father had him wielding shortened clubs -- which his younger sister now uses -- at age 4. When his dad played on weekends at Potomac Valley, the younger Cangiano would practice chipping and putting for four hours until his father finished.
The family joined Holly Hills after Potomac Valley became a public course in 1982, and McGinnis immediately noticed Cangiano's precocious dedication. "At 10, you couldn't keep him away from here," he said.
They still can't. Cangiano works at the club, helping out with the junior program. He regularly plays rounds with McGinnis or his good friend and sometimes caddy Brad Adams.
"I try to make it as hard on him as I can," said McGinnis. "He just has an extra special desire for the game. I would say he is one of the top 20 juniors in the country right now. He's proven himself as a junior. Now he has to step up to college."
Despite the amount of time he spends on the course, Cangiano has not neglected his studies, as his 3.65 GPA testifies.
If his early success was ever in danger of giving Cangiano a swelled head, working as a volunteer at the Kemper Open gave him a better view of the touring professionals. "I wanted to see the pros close up," he said. "I saw how far I have to go. Those guys are just incredible. Their mis-hit shots are still good shots."
McGinnis said Cangiano has the potential to reach that level. "He very seldom mis-hits shots," said Cangiano. "He's one of the best I've ever seen. I wish I could say there was one strong suit, but there just aren't any weaknesses."
Adams said he does see a weakness now and again, which is the reason that Cangiano likes him to caddy. "Sometimes, he will let the little things get to him," said Adams. "So I try to humor him a little bit while he's playing."
But Cangiano is dead serious about his golf, and even more straight-faced concerning his desire to play a round of golf with his idol Nick Faldo, this year's Masters and British Open champion.
"If I could just get there, that would be a highlight," Cangiano said. "And I would shoot pretty well."