Larry Rentz had last summer's Templeton Oldsmobile Middle Atlantic Open in his grasp. All he had to do was make par on Evergreen Country Club's par-5 finishing hole, the type of hole he often birdies.

But as the gallery watched in disbelief, he drove the ball far to the right, off the golf course and out of bounds.

Hello triple bogey, bye-bye birdie and golf tournament.

Lately, Rentz, who is from Lanham, has found ways to win tournaments, not lose them. An assistant pro at Newbridge, near Capital Centre, he has clinched the earnings title on the winter National PGA Club Professional Tournament Series with $26,832. Rentz has won twice on the 18-event circuit, including a $4,000 first-place check Feb. 22 after two rounds of 70 in Citrus Springs, Fla. As money leader, he also qualified for the third straight year for the PGA Tour satellite competition called the Tournament Players Series.

"Instead of spending money on the last day of the tournament, I'm making money," Rentz said from Ocala, Fla., last week, where he tied for sixth and won $1,500 competing in his final Club Pro event of the season.

Rentz attributed his final-hole miscue at Evergreen to lack of experience. "I think I rushed the shot. That was my problem. I'd shoot 75 the final day of some tournaments. This winter, I seem to be shooting 69s and 70s the last round."

Since last March, the strong, solidly built Rentz has won $43,000 on the Club Pro circuit, the TPS, the Florida mini-Tour, and other events.

Rentz, 25, recently took a written PGA business examination and, if he passes, will be able to compete on the upcoming area Middle Atlantic PGA circuit.

In October, he will attempt to qualify for his golfing goal, the PGA Tour.

"I try to think my way around the golf course," said Rentz. "When I was a junior (he won the 18-and-under PGA National Long Drive Contest of 1976 with a swat of 293 yards), I used to just hit the ball and hunt it."

Rentz became interested in golf at 13 by tagging along on weekends with his golfing father. When Rentz was 14, Newbridge pro Jim Shuey gave him a job picking up balls on the driving range. Rentz said he "got the bug" being around pro golfers Shuey and Middle Atlantic PGA player Brian Staveley.

"Golf paid for my education (he played scholarship golf at the University of Florida and got to know future PGA Tour stars Andy Bean and Gary Koch there). Now I'm making a living at it. It's been really good to me. I don't think I could be a person who could go to the office every day."

On the Club Pro tour, Rentz befriended Long Island pro Jim Albus, who is second to him on the earnings list at $19,000.

"Albus is a great manager of the golf game," Rentz said. "He has a good attitude and is a tremendous competitor. If you hang around with the wrong type of people, who talk negatively about how bad they're putting and things, you get into bad habits."

Rentz is preparing for an October pressure-cooker week of PGA Tour qualifying.

"You just try to play good when the tour school comes around. That's a lot of pressure that one week. I'd like to give it (PGA Tour) a shot. You never know until you get there. And there is only one way to find out."

If he had that final hole of the Middle Atlantic Open to play again, would he be more conservative, perhaps hitting a safer iron shot off the tee?

"I've played that hole a lot, at least 12 times, and I've always hit a driver," he said. "I had to play the hole the way I planned it. I came off the shot and faded it instead of drawing it. It was nobody's fault but my own."