If Mount Hebron senior Kyoo Hwang hopes to advance to his third consecutive Maryland state golf championship in October, he'll have to avoid his nemesis in the district qualifier. Golfers of every skill level across the country know it as the "blowup" hole.
It's that one hole that can kill a good round -- a triple bogey eight (known in golf circles as the dreaded "snowman") or a ball out of bounds or a three-putt seven on an easy par 3.
Hwang, who won the Howard County spring tournament in April and leads the Vikings in the county's first season of golf as a varsity sport, played three American Junior Golf Association tournaments this summer.
The AJGA tour is the most prestigious for up-and-coming junior golfers in the United States. Hwang, however, was disappointed with his performance in all three -- from his putting to his inability to stay consistent through 18 holes.
"When I go to the tournaments, I always mess up on one hole," said Hwang last week during a nine-hole practice round at Waverly Woods. "I'm playing pretty well, and then I have one blowup hole. After that I lose my concentration. Sometimes I do okay on the back nine, but I pretty much have [a] blowup on the front nine."
The county is using an unorthodox method of scoring to decide regular season dual matches. Instead of stroke play or match play, a Stableford scoring system -- which awards points for par, birdie, bogey and so forth -- is used. A player earns four points for a birdie, three for par, two for a bogey and one for a double bogey. For triple bogey or higher, zero points are awarded.
In his final practice round Friday, Hwang shot a 4-over 40 and scored 23 Stableford points. He made a birdie on the 515-yard par-5 second and another on the par-3 fifth (courtesy of a nice tee shot to eight feet), but he also had one hole that derailed a possible round of even par.
On the par-5 eighth, Hwang pulled his tee shot into the right rough. With an awkward stance, his next shot raced through the fairway and into some weeds. A lost ball. After taking a one-stroke penalty for the drop, Hwang seemed frustrated and topped his fourth shot. Hitting a wedge from a little more than 100 yards, Hwang still came up short. A nice chip seemed sure to save a seven, but he missed the short putt.
"He can't put himself in trouble," said Ross Hannan, Mount Hebron's first-year coach. "Fairways and greens and he'll be in the hunt."
Hwang, whose sister Suh, a sophomore, also plays on the team, came to the United States from South Korea more than three years ago with his family. His mom and dad, Hwang said, wanted them to have a better education.
After spending a year on the Eastern Shore (where Hwang joined the golf team at Easton High), his family moved to Ellicott City, where Hwang started getting more serious about golf. Every Sunday morning for the past two years, Hwang has gone out for a lesson with Jim Kardash, PGA director of golf at Arundel Golf Park in Glen Burnie.
At the 2004 state championships, he finished 42nd overall and was the only county boy to advance to the second day of competition. This summer he finished fifth at the Maryland State Golf Association junior boys' championship.
"The biggest thing [for Hwang] is just experience, just going through it," said Kardash, who has worked with hundreds of junior golfers in the Baltimore area since 1990. "I tell him: Keep going out, competing. He needs to get out there, and the blowup holes will start disappearing."