Severna Park junior Matt Guanti is trying to become a better golfer, a smarter golfer. It is the smarter golfer, he believes, who will save strokes over the four-hour trek that is an 18-hole round of golf.
"It's just as important what you do with the bad shots as what you do with the good shots," Guanti said last week during a practice round with his Severna Park teammates at Walden Golf Club in Crofton.
To that end, Guanti recalled a situation that occurred earlier this month at Anne Arundel County's 36-hole preseason tournament, played at Old South and Eisenhower. After shooting a 76 in the first round at Old South, Guanti said, he felt he needed a 73 at Eisenhower to stay in contention and have a shot at winning.
On the par-5 16th hole, Guanti's tee shot sailed well right, into the trees, and the ball came to rest next to an eight-foot-long tree trunk lying on the ground, impeding his next shot.
"Last year, if I hit a bad shot I [automatically] made bogey or worse," Guanti said. "This year, my mindset is to make the best of it."
And so he did. Instead of bemoaning the bad break, Guanti summoned his Severna Park coach, Paul Pellicani, and South River freshman Josh Eure (with whom Guanti was playing), and the three of them lifted the heavy trunk aside, a perfectly legal maneuver as long as his ball remained undisturbed.
He could have tried to hit a long iron through trees, but it was risky. Instead, Guanti punched out to the fairway, hit a 4-iron 220 yards to the side of the green, chipped on, and made the putt for par.
Two holes later, he won the event by a stroke over teammate Kelly Lynch, his first-ever victory in an open tournament. "Last year that would have been a 7 or an 8," he said.
In addition to playing smarter, Guanti is also playing stronger -- the result of some weight training classes in the past two years at Severna Park. Guanti's tee shots with his 3-wood routinely travel 270 yards or more, allowing him to keep his driver, a club that typically can't be controlled as well as a 3-wood, in the bag for every hole of the preseason tournament.
"Course management, maturity," said Pellicani, when discussing what he sees in the Falcons' No. 1 player this fall. "The younger players think if they can hit 270 with a 3-wood, then maybe 300 with the driver. Then you end up putting yourself in jail" -- in the rough, in the woods or out of bounds. "He never pulled out the driver. There's a lot of value to keeping the ball in play."
Guanti, who stands 5 feet 8, credited Severna Park football coach J.P. Hines, who taught the weight training class last year, with helping him increase the strength in his upper and lower body. For instance, Guanti said, he initially bench pressed 140 pounds and now can press 210. And the leg squats that started out with 185 pounds have increased to 350 pounds.
"Last year my 150-yard club was a 7-iron; now it's a pitching wedge," said Guanti, adding that his favorite shot is the approach from "150 yards and in."
Guanti said he'll be aiming to play college golf after he graduates in 2007, but for now there are three goals on the closer horizon. He's already accomplished one -- winning the preseason tournament -- and feels he's ready to vie for the county and district titles.
Jim Kardash, who teaches hundreds of juniors in the Baltimore area, has coached Guanti at Arundel Golf Park in Glen Burnie.
"He's got a great attitude," said Kardash. "I want him to go on out there and get more of a killer instinct [in tournament play], a little more confidence."