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Junior POY: Philly CC’s Brennan overcomes fears to top 2010 class

Article available in the Winter issue of the GAP Magazine.

  Ted Brennan began his Golf Association of Philadelphia career as the brightest star in the Junior constellation.

  Appropriately enough, the Philadelphia CC member ended it as the glorious supernova by receiving the prestigious Junior Player of the Year Award.

“It means a lot,” Brennan said. “My goal was to be the Junior Player of the Year. I knew it was going to be tough. I worked hard, and it means a lot to be able to win it.”

  Brennan, of Newtown Square, Pa., collected 395 points this season. He earned medalist honors in the Junior Boys’ Championship Qualifier at Whitford CC, finished third in the Christman Cup at Lu Lu CC and won the 26th Jock MacKenzie Memorial at Sandy Run CC. Those glowing performances allowed Brennan to also capture the Harry Hammond Award, which is given to the player with the lowest aggregate score in the qualifying round of the Junior Boys’ Championship, the Christman Cup and the Jock MacKenzie Memorial.

  Shedding light on Brennan’s GAP past further illuminates what he accomplished in 2010. He exploded into the Association atmosphere by earning medalist honors in the qualifying round of the 2005 Junior-Junior Boys’ Championship at West Chester G&CC. (He fell to his Junior Player of the Year predecessor Edward McCrossen, Jr. of Whitemarsh Valley CC, 1-up, in the quarterfinals). The following year, Brennan lost to eventual Junior-Junior Boys’ Champion Jonathan Ortiz of Philmont CC in a semifinal match at Woodbury CC.

  As he transitioned into the Junior level, Brennan showed flashes of brilliance, but significant struggles gradually piled up. He admits that his golf game hit rock bottom last year during a U.S. Junior Amateur Championship Qualifier at Glenmaura National GC.

  “The pressure of that tournament really got to me,” Brennan, a senior at The Haverford School, said. “I started missing putts. It got out of control. It was in the back of my head that ‘this was a big tournament, and I couldn’t lose it.’ It was bad. I was starting to fear that was going to happen the rest of my life.”

  Although a new year brought a newfound sense of optimism, Brennan still found himself engaged in a never-ending battle with golf’s cerebral demons.

  “It was more of the same,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t getting any better. A lot had to do with my mental game. I wasn’t putting under pressure. I wasn’t hitting shots that I needed to hit. I was nowhere near where I needed to be.”

  Desperately searching for an answer, Brennan, 18, turned to his golf coach: Mike Dynda, the Director of Instruction at Blue Bell CC and Drexel University’s head coach. The ensuing conversations flipped a mental switch for Brennan.

  “Something clicked,” he said. “Eventually, I got my head around the whole mental concept of golf.”

  Brennan showcased his fresh approach and polished skill set at the Junior Boys’ Championship. He carded a 1-over-par 73 in the qualifying round — three shots clear of his closest chasers. Although Brennan suffered a 1-up defeat at the hands of close friend Benjamin Cooley of Lu Lu CC in the quarterfinals, his performance overall set the tone.

  “I went into that tournament saying, ‘this is the biggest tournament in the GAP this year.’ I was a little fearful the putting woes would come back,” he said. “It wasn’t perfect, but I felt that I played well. It was the biggest relief I’ve ever had.”

  The experience not only propelled Brennan to the top of the Harry Hammond Award Standings, but it also triggered a critical attitude adjustment.

  “After I lost in the quarters, I realized it was no longer a matter of try to play well; it was try to win,” Brennan said. “My entire mindset shifted from fear to confidence. I felt that I could win any tournament. I was firing on all cylinders.”

  After posting scores of 73 and 74, respectively, in the Christman Cup, Brennan gravitated closer to achieving his goal. He arrived at the Jock MacKenzie Memorial as the Harry Hammond Award frontrunner. Based on “rough calculations,” Brennan knew that a tournament win would solidify both the Harry Hammond Award and Junior Player of the Year honors. The formula, however, didn’t respond accordingly until Brennan reached the 15th hole, where he fired back-to-back birdies to drop to 1 under. But Brennan carded a bogey on his final hole and initially thought that he played himself out of the winner’s circle.

  “I felt kind of defeated,” Brennan said. “I didn’t finish it out, and that hurt.”

  As the day wore on, Brennan waited anxiously near the scorer’s table, wondering if his scorecard would gleam victory. Paul Carbone, Jr. of Old York CC and Eric Slawter of St. Davids GC also posted even pars, forcing the Jock MacKenzie, coupled with Brennan’s Junior Player of the Year fate, to be decided in a sudden-death playoff. Déjà vu immediately entered the equation.

  “It was kind of a weird feeling. I hadn’t been in a playoff to win something since the (2006) Jock MacKenzie. And the last time I was in a playoff, I was scared to death. But I had been in this position before, and I knew if I just played smart and didn’t do anything stupid, I could stay alive.” (Brennan defeated Cooley in a three-hole playoff that year to win the Junior-Junior Division).

  Brennan trusted his instincts, and after seeing Carbone and Slawter both with issues on the first playoff hole, he wisely knocked his 54-degree wedge 100 yards to 15-feet and two-putted for par and a monumental triumph.

  “I stayed focused and made a putt. That was a really big moment,” Brennan said. “It was a pressure-filled situation, and I didn’t have any nerves in my hands. I had beaten the demons. It was really an accomplishment.”

  That victory marked the perfect way for Brennan to complete his tenure in the Junior Division. Furthermore, it’s prepared him for what lies ahead.

  “Other tournaments came and went, but the GAP was always there. It was a constant through the years,” Brennan said. “That’s why it was so important for me. “The GAP tournaments were a way for me to gauge how I was progressing.”

  And as a player and a person, Brennan has certainly progressed, according to clubmate and friend P. Chet Walsh.

  “It’s wonderful to see him develop into that mature adult,” Walsh said. “He’s a quality individual. He has a wonderful temperament out on the golf course. When things go south, he’s really able to look at it through a positive frame of mind. He’s a kid who loves the game. I know his father [Edward] spent a lot of time with him to help him achieve this dream of playing golf. I’m proud to see him achieve the Junior Player of the Year. It’s a big credit to Ted.”