They were strolling up the 15th fairway at Green Spring Valley yesterday afternoon when Nick Angelo asked Justin Klein if he had "watched that celebrity golf" tournament televised last weekend.
Klein said no, and Angelo realized his opponent in a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship hadn't logged any couch potato time recently. Klein, a 17-year-old senior-to-be at Gilman School, spent the weekend making history, as Sunday he became what is believed to be the youngest champion ever in the 24-year history of the Maryland Stroke Play championship.
Klein won in a walk at Green Spring yesterday, shooting a 78 in the morning and a 76 in the afternoon to gain one of the 156 berths in the national junior event. He's excited at having earned a spot at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club in Orlando July 23-27, but realizes it pales in comparison to what he accomplished at Mount Pleasant last weekend.
Yesterday, Klein handled Angelo and another prep rival from the Maryland Scholastic Association, Mike Hartman. Last weekend, over three days and 54 holes, he held off much more experienced veterans, some of whom have logged time on various satellite tours and made an occasional PGA stop.
"The junior amateur won't be the first national tournament I've been in, but it will be the first I had to qualify for," Klein said. "That means something, but I know that last weekend was more important. The strength of the field [at the Maryland Stroke Play], that made it like winning the national junior tournament."
In between the two events, Klein headed to Argyle Country Club in Silver Spring Monday, when he tied for second behind Angelo, a recent Cardinal Gibbons High grad, in a qualifier for the national Insurance Youth Tournament. All told, that's six competitive rounds in five days, and Klein is looking forward to a break from competition, if not from practice.
"I'm tired right now, but it's mental more than physical," Klein said. "I've never tried a schedule like this before. I'm going to see my coach tomorrow [today], thank God."
That would be Ted Sheftic, the head professional at Hanover County Club in Abbottstown, Pa., who since last fall has shaved four strokes from Klein's handicap. One more and he's at scratch.
The Klein household overlooks the No. 3 tee on the Blue course at Hunt Valley. Justin began playing at age 6 and junior RTC tournaments regularly at age 12. Last summer he and his father, Richard, an independent insurance agent with a 5-handicap, won the Maryland Father-Son championship.
Justin was having difficulty dealing with a growth spurt that occurred during his sophomore year of high school, however, and he wasn't happy with his game. Sheftic has changed that.
"Justin was at a point where he couldn't go any further with his swing," Sheftic said. "He had a lot of talent, but basically he didn't know why the ball was going where it was. He just lacked basic knowledge of the golf swing. If he goes to a national tournament now and his swing breaks down, he can go to the practice tee and fix it himself."
There are days -- especially off the white tees at Mount Pleasant, Gilman's home course and the MSA site -- when Klein lives with his driver and one of the four wedges he carries. He's 6 feet 2 and 165 pounds, and while he's still growing physically, the Maryland Stroke Play championship added plenty of muscle to his mental frame.
"I wasn't sure how I would handle the pressure, but I was able to block out the gallery," Klein said. "I was happy about that. I was putting enough pressure on myself anyway."
Before going to the U.S. Junior Amateur, the premier event of its kind, Klein will play another national junior tournament in Roanoke, Va., next week. Sheftic knows his pupil is ready.
"Justin has a wonderful touch around the green, very impressive for a kid that tall, and he has the instincts to win," Sheftic said. "I think he can be one of the top junior players, one of the top collegiate players, in the country. Winning a junior tournament is big, but winning a state amateur championship like he just did will make colleges sit up and notice."
A B-plus student whose strength is math, Klein said he would like to join one of the ACC powers in autumn 1992. Among his equipment yesterday was a hat from Duke.