Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City teen honing her talent at Hank Haney golf academy

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She freely admits her sports past suggests a short attention span.

Veronica Vetesnik, just 15, also knows that despite it, golf has its hooks into her.

"I started figure skating, then my friends convinced me to play ringette because everybody played it," the Winnipegger said. "Then my best friend convinced me to play hockey with her one year."

Then, almost by accident, came a trip to the golf course with her parents.

"One lesson and right away, 200 (yards) on the drives when she started to play with us," said her father, Jan. "Where did that come from? She was 13."

And so with that strong suggestion of natural talent in what today is considered a late start, the Vetesniks wondered what was out there that might help Veronica "catch up."

Was it instruction or a course membership? Maybe finding some golf friends, since none of hers or her two older siblings played.

Some outside-the-box thinking led to an unorthodox option that turned quickly to a decision.

"One day, she told us she might like to go to some boarding school for golf somewhere," Vetesnik's father said. "We started looking. We found the Hank Haney Academy.

"We went to see it, thinking maybe for high school for Grade 9. But she saw it, we came home and she bugged us to want to go."

Now, after two years at Haney's International Junior Golf Academy at Hilton Head, S.C., it's clear Vetesnik and golf are a good fit.

Her action is smooth, uncomplicated, showing evidence of direction. She compresses the ball, not something you can say about every 15-year-old who picks up a club.

"They said I was a quick learner," Vetesnik said. "I think I am. I've played a lot of sports, except soccer and football. It's fun."

But as so many golfers know, if you're serious about the game, it can abuse and frustrate if you don't choose paths carefully.

One approach Vetesnik has taken with her schedule -- one that allots just about every waking hour to school, practice and life items like laundry -- is not to overdo golf.

"You need breaks every once in a while," she said. "It's five hours a day of golf and we had the option of golfing on weekends, but I decided not to.

"I'd go play once in a while with my friends if we didn't have a tournament (on weekends), but I would take the break because I was scared I'd get sick of it. I took one day off or two on the weekend."

The golf academy turned out to be a good option for additional reasons, including that Vetesnik is a good student and her distance from home is not conducive to constantly hovering parents, a real risk for young players.

"If your grades were under 77, you can't play," she said. "Seventy is a pass. One time I had a bad mark in science, so I didn't go (to a tournament)."

The program includes small classes -- between seven and 12 students -- and appearances from the academy's founder, Haney, who coached Tiger Woods for six years.

"He comes every two months," Vetesnik said. "He had the big Hank Haney project show, was pretty busy with that. But he'd come down for three or four days, and when we got to the course, he'd help us. One day it's with short game, the next with long game.

"Every once in a while, he'd take a group of us on the course and put us in awkward situations. He took me, one of the tallest girls, and he put me under this huge tree and wanted me to hit a shot backwards and out.

"He's a normal guy. He's not one of those guys, like some coaches are scary, some make you nervous. With him, it's almost like practising in front of my dad. I'm not nervous at all. Maybe the first time to hit a shot in front of a famous guy, but really he's just a normal guy."

Vetesnik's actual game continues to be a work in progress.

She's gone from shooting 130 in her second IJGT tournament to the 90s by the end of the school year last year.

This year, she shot a 79 in a tournament at Duke University, but of course ran into the mental challenges of comfort zones that come with improvement.

"I wasn't so focused on the tournament because I was playing with some of my friends," Vetesnik said. "That group helped me. I didn't overthink it. Then the next day I played with all the girls I never played with before. They were always in the top. They were quiet and focused. I was overthinking everything. My score went up."

Much of the second half of her second season of development at IJGA ran into a roadblock -- a broken wrist, embarrassingly, she admitted, from a Christmas skating accident at home.

Now home for the summer, Vetesnik plans to practise, practise, practise -- and play, especially in tournaments, including in this week's Manitoba Junior.

Of course, summer also includes enjoying a break from the intensity of school.

"That's probably hanging out with my friends, staying at home," she said with a smile. "And watching TV, because at school, there's no time for TV, maybe once a week for half an hour while we're eating dinner, but that's about it."

Not 16 until January, Vetesnik is in no rush about her future, but she does think about it.

" Right now, short steps," she said. "I like trying things that are new. This has been a lot different. This school is basically preparation for college. It's exactly the same. It'll make it simpler. It won't be a surprise when I go to college.

"My goal for now is for sure to play college golf if I can. Maybe then possibly try my best for the LPGA, but what happens, happens. It depends. The Olympics is something I think about, too, but I have a while to go. You can't say for sure."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca


ON COURSE

WHEN Winnipeg's Veronica Vetesnik started at Hank Haney's International Junior Golf Academy in 2010, you might have expected the LPGA's CN Canadian Women's Open at St. Charles to have been a catalyst to her interest in golf.

Sorry, too late. She was already gone to school when Michelle Wie won the event in late August that year.

Vetesnik confessed she's actually not that into the LPGA.

"But we did go to the (PGA Tour's) Heritage Classic last year," she said. "I was a standard-bearer in the tournament. Our whole school had to work at least two days there. I carried the sign for Charles Howell III one day."

But it wasn't Howell who caught her eye.

"Ricky and Rory," she smiled. No doubt most of us are on a first-name basis with our favourites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2012 B8

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