Larry Rentz's golf game has matured considerably since he was intimidated in a long-ball shootout with heavy hitters Evan (Big Cat) Williams and Jim (Distance) Dent prior to the 1976 PGA at Congressional.
Rentz, who qualified for that National Long-Driving Contest when he was 16, since has harnessed his power and will defend his championship in the Marvin (Bubby) Worsham Memorial that starts Tuesday at Bethesda Country Club.
Rentz plays out of Crofton Country Club and is a junior at the University of Florida, where he plays on the golf team with District Amateur champ Rob Black and Tony DeLuca.
Rentz entered the long-driving contest almost as a lark ("My friends said, 'Go ahead and try,' so I did"). The first-phase qualifying was at Belair in Bowie, where Rentz poked the gold ball 280 yards. a 312-yard drive on Long Island landed him in the junior division finals at Bethesda, where he won with a 293-yard blast.
That advanced Rentz to the national finals, played the day before the first round of the PGA off the first tee at Congressional, under scrutiny of television camers and a huge gallery.
Among the long knockers were PGA Tour slugger Dent, Williams and Cotton Dunn, who looks like a jumbo Jack Nicklaus and flies his tee shots past the best offerings of the Golden Bear.
"That was the most awesome experience I ever had," said Rentz. "I've never seen so many people."
Rentz was given three balls, and in order to continue in the competition, he had to land his shots in the fairway.
His first two blasts were pushed "into the pineys on the right." His final shot was a severe duck hook. Exit Rentz.
Williams went on to win the contest with a 300-yard shot against the wind.
Rentz says he owes his new-found poise and improvement to Florida Coach Buster Bishop, who coached the likes of U.S. Open winner Andy North, Andy Bean, Bob Murphy and Phil Hancock.
"He takes what you have and tries to develop that. He doesn't change your swing. I used to really rush everything. He taught me how to get ready to hit the shot, to know what you want to do before you draw the club back."
Rentz qualified for the U.S. Open this spring in Toledo.
"Nothing has ever come close to how fast those greens were at Inverness," he said, having played the last 13 holes of his first round in one over par but missing the midway cut with 76-87.
He was encouraged.
"Lately, I've been starting to develop a good short game and I'm starting to putt a lot better. I have confidence in myself."
Paul Ryan of Congressional has not played varsity gold at Furman the last two years because he resisted the efforts of the coach to change his swing. Ryan rested his case by winning the Middle Atlantic Open Thursday . . . Marty West, an automatic qualifier because he was on the U.S. Walker Cup team, joins area players Wayne DeFrancesco, Tony DeLuca, Ryan, Butch Mielke, Gary Marlowe, John Kyle and Bob Ficil in the U.S. Amateur, which starts Tuesday at Cleveland's Canterbury club . . . The Tournament of Junior Champions, which began at Kenwood in 1960, returns there today after six years at Reston and has been renamed the George Diffenbaugh Tournament of Junior Champions in memory of the late Kenwood pro.