PALM HARBOR — When Calvary Christian junior golfer Lee McCoy was an infant, his parents used to flip through the television channels until golf popped on the screen, at which point McCoy would immediately perk up and become mesmerized by the action.
When his parents switched off golf, he cried.
At 18 months, McCoy received his first golf clubs, a plastic set he would hit back and forth from one neighbor’s house to the next with remarkable accuracy and consistency.
He was a natural, people said, so much so that by age 3 McCoy was taking private lessons.
Since then, he has rarely left the course. A typical day for the 16 year old includes 50 or so practice strokes on the driving range, an 18-hole round in the early morning and another 18 holes in the evening on the Innisbrook South Course where the tee box for hole No. 7 sits a chip shot away from his back yard.
McCoy, it would appear, was born to play golf.
A year ago, McCoy, the Times’ 2009 boys golfer of the year, finished tied for sixth in Class A after firing 1-over 145 through the two-day state tournament.
He enters the 2010 season as the county’s best hope for an individual state championship.
But that’s far from McCoy’s mind. He just wants to play, to improve and to continue having fun with a game he knows so well.
“Everybody’s real big on goal setting,” McCoy said. “But my game is what it is. A goal’s not going to help me hit a 7-iron 3 feet from the pin.”
Make no mistake, though, McCoy is but one of a handful of golfers from across the state with a legit shot at the title.
Since last season, he has grown 3 inches. At 5-10, he’s no longer the shortest guy on the course.
He’s added anywhere from 15 to 25 yards to his drives, which might not be a factor on the short courses McCoy will play during the high school season but did help him qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur for the second year in a row (he finished tied for 17th out of 156 golfers this year) and the Junior Player Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach next weekend.
He has developed his wedge game to the point where any shot rolling to a stop more than 10 feet from the hole is considered a failure. And his putting, which has always been a highlight of his game, remains consistent.
“(Putting) is the thing I practice the least, but it’s the best part of my game,” McCoy said.
McCoy orally committed to the University of Georgia on an unofficial visit shortly following his standout sophomore season. A native of Georgia, the Bulldogs were always his first choice. With his college decision already made, the pressure most high school golfers feel during the season has vanished.
Which should make McCoy an even more dangerous golfer as a junior.
“I want to stay below 75 for all my rounds this year,” he said. “Last year I shot 75 or higher three times. I don’t want that to happen this year.”
Other players to watch
Taylor Hancock, Sr., Calvary Christian: With McCoy and Hancock, the Warriors have arguably the best 1-2 duo in the county.
Chase Harvey, Jr., Clearwater: Takes over top spot for the Tornadoes and will be a factor come tournament time.
Sebastian Hilpl, So., East Lake: Hilpl, along with fellow sophomore Zack Wood, form the nucleus of the new-look Eagles.
Kyle Kubala, So., Northeast: Fast-rising underclassman tied for third as a freshman at districts last year after firing 4-over 76.
Jack Maguire, So., St. Petersburg: Looking to return to state tournament after qualifying as an eighth-grader at Shorecrest.
M.J. Maguire, Sr., St. Petersburg: Has finished in the top 20 at states each of the past three seasons.
Ryan Mosley, Jr., Northeast: Itching to get back to states after qualifying two years ago as a freshman.
Andrew Norris, Jr., Dunedin: Out of the Falcons’ top five from 2009, Norris is the lone returning starter.
Ryan Orr, So., Clearwater Central Catholic: Placed third at districts with 74 and led the Marauders with a 37.3 nine-hole stroke average last year.
Nick Quintessenza, Sr., Northside Christian: Shot 4-over par at states for Mustangs last season.
Christian Senger, Sr., Palm Harbor University: Recorded consecutive 78s at districts and regionals to help Hurricanes qualify for states.
Tyler Zacur, Sr., Seminole: The senior leader of a formidable Warhawks lineup.
Top teams (public schools)
Palm Harbor University: Hurricanes return four of their top five — Senger, Charlie Camisasca, Dustin Dingus and Colby Norris — from a team that captured PCAC and district titles.
St. Petersburg: Green Devils haven’t made state as a team this century, but with the Maguire brothers at the top of the lineup, they’ll be a major factor come playoff time.
Northeast: Vikings have as much upside as any team in the county and return four starters — Mosley, Kubala, Austin Stephens and Conner Chambers — from last year’s district runnerup squad.
On the bubble: Dunedin, East Lake, Seminole
Top teams (private schools)
Calvary Christian: First-year coach Greg McClimans inherits a team loaded with proven veterans and up-and-coming youngsters. Warriors placed seventh at states in 2009.
Northside Christian: Mustangs are looking for a return trip to states and have a solid trio to build around in seniors Jeff Heinicka and Nick Quintessenza and freshman Anthony Quintessenza.
St. Petersburg Catholic: Barons return zero starters from the team that competed at districts last year but might have the county’s best collection of talented underclassmen in sophomores Jamie Lincoln and M.J. Fiske and freshmen Clayton Spilman and Matthew Rothrock.
On the bubble: Clearwater Central Catholic, Shorecrest
Sept. 4: East Lake Invitational at Cypress Run
Sept. 20: Crutchfield/Hawkins Invitational in Sebring
Sept. 30: Mustang Invitational at Seminole Lake Country Club
Oct. 6: Green Devil Invitational at The Vinoy Club
Oct. 16: Clearwater Central Catholic Invitational at Belleair Country Club
Oct. 18-19: District tournaments
Oct. 25-26: Region tournaments
Nov. 2-3: State tournaments