In summers past, Ray Hyre spent much of his time on a baseball diamond. He played on a Babe Ruth all-star team that won a state title last summer, and he planned on moving up to an American Legion team this summer.

A dimpled little white ball, however, got in the way.

Instead of throwing strikes and trying to improve his batting average, Hyre has spent the past few months teeing up golf balls. He estimated he played 15 golf tournaments, at least one per week, as he prepared for his senior year at Bowie High. After finishing third in the Maryland 4A/3A championship last fall, Hyre is the top returning golfer in Prince George's County and hopes to make another run at a state title.

"Last fall was when I really started" to improve, Hyre said. "My sophomore and freshman year, I shot around par, maybe a little bit over. In the last year or so, it's not a successful round if I'm not under par or around par. There is no more going out and having a bad day and shooting 85 or something. If I have a bad day now, I should be shooting 75 or something like that.

"Last year, I was just trying to do as much as I could to get around par. Now I'm not very satisfied unless I shoot under par."

Hyre's best finish this summer was third place in the Bob Riley Junior Open at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria. He said he had a few practice rounds of 68, and that his best tournament round was a 70 at Bowling Green Country Club in Front Royal, Va.

The biggest difference in his play, Hyre said, is that his swing has improved. He said he often works with his father, Bill, on the mechanics of the swing and has become more consistent as he tries to improve and earn a college golf scholarship.

"This was the first summer my whole life I haven't played baseball," said Hyre, who was one of the top two starting pitchers last spring for the Bowie baseball team. "I'm focusing more on golf."

For the past few seasons, Hyre has faced tough competition from teammate Billy Stoutsenberger, who won the past three county titles. But because Stoutsenberger has graduated, Hyre's biggest challenge this season should come from Douglass sophomore Aaron Anderson. Last season, Anderson finished second by one shot in the district and county tournaments.

County organizers have tweaked the season schedule in an attempt to have top players face each other more often.

With every school except Forestville fielding a team this season -- adding six new teams is something Douglass Coach Jim Woods called "huge news" -- the county 4A league was split into two geographical divisions. Those divisions and the 3A/2A league will hold two 18-hole tournaments, with top players paired in foursomes. Those tournaments lead up to the county and state qualifying tournaments.

"In the past, we might have only one or two events where the top players in the county got a chance to compete against each other," Bowie Coach Rodney Lathern said. "This can only make the players better, facing that type of competition week in and week out."

Lathern said Hyre's schedule this past summer will have him in good shape for the high school season. Experience, Lathern said, is invaluable, and Hyre got plenty of it over the summer, which he enjoyed.

"In baseball you're playing with a team," Hyre said. "In golf, it's all me. How successful I am doesn't depend on other people. I like that about golf."

"This was the first summer . . . I haven't played baseball," Bowie senior Ray Hyre said. "I'm focusing more on golf."