Sept. 9, 2014
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Some 6,000 miles away in Japan, golfer Denny McCarthy followed his UVa teammates as they competed at the Northern Intercollegiate in Sugar Grove, Ill.
After the Cavaliers rallied to win the 13-team tournament Sunday, McCarthy texted head coach Bowen Sargent.
“Looks like you don’t need me,” McCarthy said.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Sargent replied.
Sargent knows well how valuable McCarthy is to the Virginia program. Just consider what the 5-9 senior from Rockville, Md., has accomplished in the past six months.
McCarthy tied for second at the ACC championships in April and then capped his junior season by placing sixth at the NCAA championships in May.
In June he won his second straight Maryland State Amateur title, and in July he lost in a playoff for the Maryland Open championship, which he has captured twice.
His most memorable showing, however, came in August, when McCarthy reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Championships before losing 1-up. His brother, Ryan, a former golfer at Loyola (Md.), caddied for him at the Atlantic Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.
This was the sixth U.S. Amateur for McCarthy, who until this year had never advanced past the first round of match play.
“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” McCarthy said recently. “It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Just the support I had. My brother being on the bag was pretty special, and my whole family was there.
“We made a family vacation out of it. And after I won a couple matches, people were driving down from Maryland through the night, 10 hours. It was crazy, the support I had. It was really unbelievable. There were a couple different groups of people driving down [to Georgia] through the middle of the night. I mean, who does that?”
Had he advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, McCarthy would have earned exemptions to the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015.
“Not just any tournaments,” he said.
Less than a week later, McCarthy received an honor that helped ease his disappointment. The U.S. Golf Association selected McCarthy as one of the three players who will represent the United States at the 2014 World Amateur Team Championship, which begins Wednesday in Karuizawa, Japan.
“It’s basically the Olympics of amateur golf,” Sargent said.
Alumni of the tournament include Jack Nicklaus (1960), Ben Crenshaw (’72), Phil Mickelson (’90), Tiger Woods (’94), Sergio Garcia (’96 and ’98) and Rory McIlroy (2006).
“It’s the elite of the elite,” Sargent said.
Sixty-nine teams will compete in the four-day event, whose winner receives the Eisenhower Trophy. McCarthy’s teammates are SMU junior Bryson DeChambeau and Texas sophomore Beau Hossler.
McCarthy, an anthropology major who’s on track to graduate in May, started his fall classes before leaving for Japan last week. He’s scheduled to return Monday.
His professors, McCarthy said, have been understanding. “They realize this is a big honor and great opportunity for me. School’s definitely going to [be challenging] when I come back, but I think it’s worth it.”
A graduate of Georgetown Prep, where he also played basketball, McCarthy had a sensational career as a junior golfer. In 2010, he won the Junior PGA Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., and helped the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team to a victory over the European squad in Scotland. Also that year, at 17, he became the youngest player to win the Maryland Open.
He was widely considered a top-5 recruit in the Class of 2011, and McCarthy has proved deserving of the accolades. He’s had the best stroke average on the team in each of the past two seasons: 72.31 in 2012-13 and 70.38 in 2013-14.
“I would hope that would signal to junior golfers that the University of Virginia is a place where you can come and continue to get better, even though you’re exceptional,” Sargent said.
McCarthy also seriously considered Wake Forest and North Carolina before choosing Virginia.
“For me, it was the first really big recruit I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Sargent, who took over at UVa in August 2004. “And just to be honest, I was a little bit nervous, because you never know exactly how that’s going to work out. There’s a lot of pressure when you get a kid like that.
“But I think Denny’s done a good job of listening. He’s done a good job of not letting success go to his head. I think he’s stayed hungry, and all of those things have allowed him to get better.”
McCarthy said his game has evolved since he enrolled at the University in 2011.
“I definitely have gotten stronger,” he said. “I’ve gotten longer off the tee, for sure. I’ve probably added a good 15 or 20 yards since I came into school, with my irons too. But I think the most improved part of my game is definitely my wedge play, with my scoring clubs, probably 9-iron and in.
“I’ve always been a good putter. I think I’ve become a better putter, just learning different surfaces, reading the greens better, taking everything into account. Also, just my preparation. Coach Sargent really puts an emphasis on preparation, and I think it’s a really key component, especially if I want to play at the next level.”
McCarthy also credits Dr. Bob Rotella, the renowned sports psychologist who lives in Charlottesville.
“I’ve taken so much from him the last couple years,” McCarthy said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with him and listen to what he has to say.
Rotella preaches the importance of “staying in the present,” McCarthy said. “I know it sounds like a clichÃ©, but he tells stories to put things in perspective, about guys he works with at the next level.
“I’ve taken a lot of what he’s said and applied it to my game. Once a shot’s over with, once the ball leaves your club face, you have no control of it. You have no control of if a gust of wind comes. There’s literally nothing you can do after you hit the ball, so there’s no sense in dwelling on a past shot when you should be focusing on your next one. That’s kind of the mindset I’ve taken into every golf shot I play and every tournament I play. I definitely have a better head on my shoulders, that’s for sure.”
As a freshman, McCarthy finished 77th at the NCAA championships. He improved to 22nd as a sophomore and to sixth as a junior. He believes he can contend for the title next spring.
“I’ve played in it three times now, and I’ve played in a lot of other really big, world-class events,” McCarthy said. “I just feel really comfortable on the big stage. I’m not shy, and I’m not going to back away.”
Sargent said: “Dr. Rotella talks a lot about this: Guys that steadily improve, their confidence continues to build, and I think that’s the path Denny’s on right now.”
After returning from Japan, McCarthy will leave a couple of days later for Nashville, Tenn., where the Wahoos will play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Challenge Cup.
“No rest for the weary,” Sargent said.
McCarthy doesn’t mind. He’s committed to elevating UVa golf while polishing his game.
“He feels like in his college career he hasn’t achieved everything he wants to achieve, and that’s what kind of what makes him great,” Sargent said. “A lot of kids could kick back and say, `Well, professional golf’s around the corner and I’ve kind of done my thing and I don’t need to do any more.’
“I’m sure he wants to win an ACC team title, an ACC individual title. He wants an NCAA championship. So his work’s not done in his mind.”
McCarthy, the ACC freshman of the year in 2011-12, placed fourth that season at the conference championships, where teammate Ben Rusch won the individual title. McCarthy slumped to a tie for 29th as a sophomore but returned to form last spring, tying for second, five strokes behind Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schneiderjans.
“That’s one I’ve always wanted,” McCarthy said of the ACC title, whose former winners include such luminaries as Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins, Davis Love III, David Duval and Curtis Strange.
“It’s hard to think about it right now, obviously, because it’s so far away, but when it starts getting closer to that, that’s one I’ve wanted to win since I came to school here. I had a really good opportunity to win it my freshman year. I was young, though, and a little inexperienced, so I didn’t quite pull it out. And last year I played a solid tournament. Ollie just went out and beat everyone that week.
“Hopefully this is my year. We’ll see, though. I’m just worried about the fall season, taking it a tournament at a time right now.”