Published April 29. 2013 4:00AM Updated May 02. 2013 11:05AM
It may have started with clubs passed down from his grandfather, but those family heirlooms have driven Huskies' junior Gabe Van Ness far off the tee.
Ditching the diamond for the green in his early teens, Gabe has steadily improved multiple facets of his golf game. After appearing in several regional and national tournaments, Gabe has blossomed into a force this season for Shoreline-unbeaten Morgan by earning match medalist honors in each of his first five contests.
"I have just been playing really well after putting in extra work during the summer and winter," says the junior, whose medal round totals include a pair of 36s and 37s, along with a 38. "I feel my hitting and my putts have been well; I have started to hit the green more. I am also hitting closer and straighter in the fairway and avoiding hitting the ball near trees, plus getting the ball on the green as a good iron player. I feel I am starting a balance."
Consistency has gone beyond Gabe's stroke total and into his head. While needing strong mechanics, Gabe knows that to be a swinging success, it takes the ability to have a short-term memory on the course and take everything in stride.
"It takes both physical and mental elements," says Gabe, who had a third-place finish, along with six top-10 spots for several New England-based U.S. Challenge Cup tournaments. "You need to be tough mentally and let go of whatever happens. You don't need to have the perfect swing, but you need to know which one works. Because of my experience with other tournaments, my mentality has gotten better. Before I wanted to break a certain number, but now I just aim to shoot as low as possible."
The low tally approach has earned Gabe various high finishes, including a 26th-place landing at the 70-player worldwide American Junior Golf Association Tournament. Not letting the interstate exposure get to his head, Gabe knows there are pieces of his arsenal that still require fine tuning.
"My x-factor seems to be my drive off the first shot, which could use some work going further," admits Gabe, who has additionally made it to the playoff round of a Connecticut Junior Amateur Tournament qualifier. "My putting could use some help, as well. "
Gabe feels that his drive to the hole has opened up with the junior "wedging" his way to the pin. Gaining introspection through the years, Gabe says the game separates the men from the boys in one regard.
"My wedge shots have improved and I am getting good initial shots," says Gabe. "I may not be driving them very long, but I am able to hit them near the green for good birdie looks. Short game is very important; it's the difference between professionals and amateurs."
Not only improving as an individual, but also via learning the intricacies of each course he steps on, Gabe is also stepping up into a big leadership role for Morgan. Having a distinct turf edge now, he passes along any link lessons he can to his teammates.
"I feel more like a leader this year because now that I am playing better, I feel I try to give advice to everyone," Gabe expresses. "Plus, now as a junior, I have played all the Shoreline Conference courses at least twice so I am able to give advice on each one to others. That's why I feel home-field advantage in golf is bigger than in any other sport."
Morgan Coach Eric Bergman is aware of his athlete's commitment to the fairway, along with his dedication to the squad as he conveys plenty of knowledge to his teammates.
"Gabe represents the town very well," says Bergman, who is also Gabe's English teacher. "He is a gentleman and very kind. Having him is also like having a player-coach as he is very mature for his age and I can also ask him for advice on how to run the lineup plus practice drills for the team. I have known him since he was a freshman and he has gotten better every year. He is a dedicated leader, helps other players, and is hard on himself to do even better."
Even though the solo success has been visibly present on his scorecards, nothing would delight Gabe more than seeing his name penciled in with Morgan as both Shoreline Conference and Division IV state champions.
"We have five guys that can really play well," says Gabe, who thanks parents Jaime and Steve, plus Bergman and swing coach David Pianki. "I like our chances in both Shorelines and states."