Local golf notebook: Fox Chapel sophomore learning from 1 of the best

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It may seem strange to say that attending an academy named for one of golf's most renowned teachers is a leap of faith.

But that is exactly what David Rice did when he left Fox Chapel Area High School to spend the rest of his sophomore year at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C.

Rice has been immersed in golf instruction since early January, and one of the most important lessons learned has been the value of patience. He has needed it — as well as perseverance — since he and his fellow classmates had their swings dismantled and rebuilt by the academy instructors.

“Whenever we visited (last November), they told us, ‘You're going to get a lot worse before you get better here,' ” said Rice, 16. “The coaches know what they're doing, and you just have to trust that they know what they're doing.”

Rice, who helped Fox Chapel win a section title in the fall, said his swing was a “mess” after it was reconstructed. Progress has come over the past two months, he said, and he has had ample opportunity to work on his swing and other parts of his game.

Students spend their mornings in class, but afternoons are devoted to golf instruction. That is followed by an hour of weight training. Weekdays are nothing if not regimented, but Rice is hardly complaining.

Haney, who worked with Tiger Woods when the latter dominated golf like few others, provides personal instruction to all of the students several times during the semester. Rice already has played the Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C., as part of the tournament circuit that is part of the curriculum.

The track was the site of the 2012 PGA Championship, and the challenges it posed reminded Rice of why he enrolled at the academy.

“The big part was just to improve my game and take it to the next level so that I could hopefully play college golf,” said Rice, who plays to a 10 to 12 handicap. “It's just a neat thing to do, something different.”

Looking ahead

The Senior Players Championship returns to Fox Chapel Golf Club in late June, and there are several reasons to believe it will build on the success it enjoyed last year.

None is bigger than the presence of Rocco Mediate, who would love nothing more than to return to his native Western Pennsylvania and win a major on one of his favorite courses.

“I talk about Fox Chapel more than I talk about any other course up there,” Mediate said. “I love Laurel Valley, but Fox Chapel and Allegheny (Country Club) are the top two golf courses in Western Pennsylvania. Period.”

Mediate, 50, is in his first season on the Champions Tour. He won his inaugural tournament and finished fifth in the other event he has played.

His early play has Mediate poised for a big season, and the crowds he is expected to draw in the Senior Players will swell if the Greensburg native is in contention.

“I'm looking forward to that, for sure,” Mediate said of the tournament that runs from June 27-30. “Plus it's home.”

Chip shots

Tom Tokarski of Butler's Golf Course has been honored as 2012 Superintendent of the Year by Billy Casper Golf. Tokarski was chosen from more than 140 candidates and received the award during a recent Billy Casper Golf conference in Tampa, Fla. ... Butler Country Club will host a U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier May 13. The event is 36 holes, and registration information can be found at www.usga.org/champs/apply.

Scott Brown covers golf for Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter at ScottBrown_Trib.

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