High school golfers get head start with eased restrictions, summer tournaments

Friday, June 19, 2020 | 2:04 PM

Freeport’s youth program is as much of a summer tradition at Buffalo Golf Course as outings and leagues.

The program, which amounts to a voluntary preseason gathering of high school golfers who are getting ready for the fall season, has been in place since 1993 and has not missed a beat. The streak will continue: the coronavirus outbreak and its restrictions won’t prevent year No. 28.

“We plan to begin the summer program on Tuesday, July 7,” Freeport coach Joe Sprumont said. “It’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday morning until the season officially begins.”

When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced golf courses could reopen in the yellow phase of his color-tiered plan to bring the state back from the virus shutdown, high school golfers immediately began their “workouts.”

Other fall sports such as football, soccer and girls volleyball have to wait for their respective school boards to approve health and safety guidelines — a sidecar to what the state proposed recently — before they can get join up for summer sessions.

So does that mean golfers will be 1-up on the other athletes come the fall, assuming sports are allowed to start?

“High school golfers have been fortunate that they could get back on the course May 1 and begin playing, basically as they will during the season,” Sprumont said. “So, yes, golfers have had an advantage.”

A number of district players have already competed in several youth tournaments, be it with the Tri-State PGA, IJGA, Hurricane Tour or events at their home courses.

Some are right on schedule with their training, status quo, long before the fall season starts.

“I would say we definitely have an edge over the rest of the athletes,” said Penn-Trafford rising senior Alex Turowski, the WPIAL Class AAA runner-up last season. “Clubs were closed down for some time but opened early compared to everything else. Plus we are able to have tournament play while other sports can only (begin) practice with their own teams.”

Greensburg Central Catholic incoming junior Ella Zambruno, who will look to help lead the Centurions to a sixth consecutive WPIAL title and a third straight PIAA championship, does not see golf pulling ahead of other sports.

She said the quarantine time gave athletes a chance to practice and prepare on their own, even if it was off the course.

“I don’t really think that we would have an advantage because sometimes there is more to sports than the just the physical preparation,” she said. “While you are off, you can work on the mental part of the game. Sometimes a break is good. It makes you miss the game more and want to work hard once you get a chance to get back at it.”

Zambruno said team gatherings can only go so far.

“Working on your skills alone can be just as effective as a team practice,” she said.

Peters Township boys golf coach Dave Kuhn also has operated a successful youth academy and said it has not missed a beat during the down time.

His “workouts” with the academy’s personal trainer shifted online to Zoom for a time, and Kuhn said his students have done drills and learned through online webinars.

“I also did online lessons,” Kuhn said. “Since the golf course is open, we have been back out training in a private lesson setting and in small groups where we are social distanced. My junior program for kids in grades K through 8 has been going outdoors for the past three weeks.”

Kuhn said the simple fact golf is played outdoors lends the sport to easier social distancing.

“Most junior tournaments, as well as amateur tournaments, are back up and running, and I think that is a helpful advantage for competitive golfers,” he said. “The advantage is that young golfers can get out and play. You don’t get better at any sport by just practicing alone. You must play the game. Driving range work and practice is all good, but there’s no substitute for playing the game and playing under competitive pressure.”

The first date golf teams can begin practicing and conduct tryouts is Aug. 17. Teams can play matches Aug. 20.

By then, Sprumont hopes, his players will be adjusted to practicing and playing their home course.

“Our players are able to play the sport now as they normally would in competition,” he said. “To have an outlet, to get out of the house, to do something active and healthy for a couple hours.”

Zambruno has been practicing for months, along with her twin sister, Meghan.

“I played in a tournament at State College in the beginning of June and I have a tournament coming up in Hershey in about a week and a half,” she said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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