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baltimoresun.com

McDonogh freshman golfer hitting his shots

By Tom Worgo, tworgo@tribune.com

3:42 PM EDT, May 6, 2013

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Rij Patel's golf skills and future potential are getting noticed at McDonogh School. The freshman and Hunt Valley resident earned the No. 1 ranking in the 14-and-under Northeast Division of the International Junior Golf Tour last summer by winning four tournaments.

He has quickly established himself as one of the top high school golfers in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association this spring.

"I know our headmaster (Charles Britton) asked him at one point, 'Are you going to let me carry your bag when you are on the pro tour,?'" McDonogh golf coach Wright Abbot said. "Rij looked at him incredulously and said, 'I don't want to do that. I want to become a doctor.'"

Patel is a straight-A student and takes honors courses in physics, French, concert band, algebra and world history.

But he will continue to give golf his best shot and probably continue to win tournaments along the way.

"I have been coaching at McDonogh for 28 years and he's the best freshman I've ever had," Abbot said. "He is a golf junkie. He plays every day. He literally loves it. He plays in tournaments in Florida. He will even play when it's 25 degrees."

The 5-foot-8, 130-pound Patel shined in the individual MIAA championships last week, shooting a three-under par 71 at Towson Golf and Country Club in the opening day, including four birdies and 11 pars.

He finished tied for second with a three-round score of 222, which was three strokes shy of the league record.

Patel shot a final round of 76 at Five Farms at the Baltimore Country Club in Lutherville and finessed one of the day's best shots on April 30, a 30-foot chip shot for birdie to go into the last hole one down.

"Chipping in like that and at that lie is pretty remarkable," Abbot said. "Even so, that is the type of thing you see from him. I think he is outstanding around the green for someone who is 14."

With the high school season behind him, Patel will focus on American Junior Golf Association tournaments this summer and sharpening his game at his home course of Hayfield Country Club in Cockeysville.

He took 25th among some 70 golfers in an AJGA event, the Gary Gilchrist All-Star tournament in Atlanta Easter weekend. Patel's best round was a 71.

He will also play in events in Ohio in June and Easton in July.

"Right now, something good about my game is my confidence," said Patel, who has been playing since he was three-year-old. "How I able to step up to a shot, knowing exactly what I want to do. I can just swing away or putting I can just put a good stroke on it."

What gave Patel a big dose of confidence was is success International Junior Golf Tour. He won two tournaments last year in Hershey, Pa. one in Clifton, Va. and another in Orlando.

The one in Florida was a big deal since it included players from best players from the Northeast and Southeast divisions.

"A lot of the kids that played in the tournament were international students," Patel said. "Before I started playing in the IJGT, my game wasn't as solid. I definitely took my game up a notch after I was able to win a few tournaments and shoot a lot of good rounds."

Patel is winning so much despite having an unusual swing.

"It's not a conventional swing," Abbot said. He kinds of swings like a rubber band."

Patel added: "It still looks a little unorthodox considering I don't have a coach and never have."