"Off the Course" is where we talk to the players, learn about who they are, and get their thoughts about playing the game. From time to time we'll also interview college players about their junior careers and how college golf is different. We welcome your comments and suggestions. E-mail us or call toll free- 888-549-4653.
1999 Masssachusetts State Junior Champion
1998 & 1999 USGA Junior Amateur - Match Play Qualifier
1998 Big I Runner-up
1999 Junior Worlds Top 20
1998 Orange Bowl International Top 20
Brent burst on the junior golf scene at the 1998 USGA Junior Amateur at Conway Farms when he qualified for match play with scores Of 70-70/140 (3rd). Well known around New England as a quality player, Brent had had limited national tournament experience until the Boys Junior. An excellent student as well as an accomplished golfer, Brent was heavily recruited. He will be attending Wake Forest this fall on a golf scholarship.
The National Junior Golf Scoreboard sat down with Brent at the Doral Junior last December.
When did you discover the game?
When I was 9 actually. My best friend Mike Carbone, he was playing. I was best friends with him. We always spent time together, his Dad played golf and one day invited me play when I was nine. I kind of hacked it around on a public course. We did that once in a while and I liked it. The summer after that, when I was ten, I did a small clinic near where I lived and I liked that a lot. I started playing more and more. By the time I was 11 or 12 I started playing every day. I was also working to help make money and I couldn't play as much as I wanted. So when I was 13 or 14, I sat down with my Mom and I said 'Mom, it's kinda like this. On the one hand I have golf and on the other hand I have working. Eventually I'll probably have to work. I either play golf or do I work? I'm definitely thinking playing golf.' So every day during the summer I played golf. I also played a lot of other sports.
Take us back and tell us about the other sports you played. When we think of New England we think of soccer, skiing and sports like that.
I played baseball and basketball basically. I played a year of soccer. But it was baseball and basketball since I was 7 or 8. Mostly league competition.
Did you play Little League?
Yes. Played Little League. Played on my middle school team too but when I was 12 or 13 I stopped because I really didn't have the time. I couldn't do both golf and baseball because they overlapped so much. Also the swinging action was a little different so it messed up my golf swing.
Baseball swings and golf swings do not actually go together.
You're right. That was no good. I gave up both sports then, basketball too because I loved golf a great deal more.
When did you start playing tournaments?
Probably when I just turned 14. Small one day tournaments. I really didn't start playing anything competitive until the next year when I was 15. I started really late.
So you got the bug?
Nobody who has the 'golf bug' can really it explain it, but why do you think you got the bug as opposed as going on with baseball?
One of the big things was I remembered that in baseball and basketball I always wanted the ball. I always wanted it to be in my hands kinda like the quarterback at the end of the game and make it my own fate. That's really what it was. Golf is the only sport where you're it. Maybe tennis too, but you make an error...
Right, the ball is always in your hands.
Right. I'm also a perfectionist a little bit and golf is a good game for that. I'm always trying to fix something.
Either that or it drives you nuts!
Yeah...it drives me nuts most of the time. But it's different everyday, I never really get tired of it. I could play everyday. It's something I love to do. It's something I can do by myself. I had an older sister but I was always at home playing basketball by myself or hitting baseballs into the woods.
You live on Cape Cod?
So it was the Cape Cod "gang" that all qualified for the Junior Boys last summer (1998).
Can you remember your first tournament?
I was playing at a course at the Highlands. I remember going up there and we were playing from the whites and I had never seen the course before. Ken Lewis was playing in the group in front of me and when he hit off the first tee I remember saying 'I'm not going to beat that'. I had been playing with Mike (Carbone) and we were about the same. All of a sudden, just because Ken was there......I realized how much better I had to be... and he was ruling the Cape Cod golf scene as a junior player ...
How old was he at the time?
He's a year younger than me so he was 13.
So here's this younger kid pounding it off the tee...
Yes, it was just an eye opening experience. He beat me by 11 or something like that. I just remember thinking, 'I'll catch him some day'.
Do you remember being on the first tee at your first tournament?
I don't actually. I really don't get nervous on the first tee. The only time I might get nervous is when I'm playing with a team, supporting somebody else and not just playing myself. Yesterday in our Florida versus New England match, I was really nervous but today (first day of Doral) I wasn't nervous at all.
Who's helped you with your game?
I don't have a teacher. I've never had one. I've never taken a lesson. Mr. Carbone has helped me a lot from when I started. He never really gave me a lesson but if I was having a tough time he would give me a hint. But basically it's been me figuring it out, being on the range, hitting thousands of balls, looking at other people's swings, imitating pros, seeing what works, what felt comfortable. For a long time I didn't feel I had my own swing and then I saw a videotape and saying ' that's not what it feels like'. Now there are couple of guys at The Pines, my home course, that help me out once in a while. But really I just go the range by myself.
Tell us about your practice routine? On Cape Cod you have to put up your clubs for a while. Run through your spring, summer , fall for us.
January through May I might play ten times total.
Ok, so you're on the Cape, on the ocean...
It's a little cold and I'll get out an play once in a while. There's no snow on the courses so you can get out but it's cold. I try to hit balls once in a while and I keep a club in my room. During those months I might play a couple of tournaments. But since our high school schedule switched to the spring, I'll play a lot more.
You and Michael on the same team?
That's not a bad one two punch.
Yeah. In the summer, every year except this one, I played every single day. Last summer (97) I noticed I was really getting burned out. I really didn't want to be there. If I hit balls, I'd hit five balls well but on the next 50 I'd flail them around. I've toned it down this summer just so I wouldn't be as mentally exhausted. I've probably played...
You cut back practice?
I cut back practice and play. Instead of seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours per day, I now play four days a week and hit balls five days a week.
So the driving range is an important part of your routine?
Yes, everyday day that I play I would hit a bucket of balls at least. Sometimes a bucket before I play and a bucket afterwards.
Some juniors just play golf and get very little range time.
I can't do that. I play at a public course and I cannot just go out whenever I want. It's not possible to play in three hours. Sometimes I get up at 6AM and play in the morning dew but I usually get paired up.
It's whenever the starter can fit you in? Paired up with the 40 year old guys..."Hi, my name is Brent Wanner, mind if I join you" ?
(Laugh) Yeah, pretty much. I'll also chip and putt. The Highlands has a really good chipping area. I'll spend a hour and a half doing that. In the fall, well this fall I haven't played very much since the (high school) season changed. I've just been playing the weekends. I don't have time with school. I play on Saturday and hit balls on Sunday. It's really tough because the last time I played it was 23 degrees.
I can see that. I know I want the ball for myself but basketball doesn't look so bad. Those guys are in a warm gym....
(Laugh) There were days I was questioning myself.
If you could win two tournaments next summer, which two would you pick?
US Junior and the US Amateur. I'm going to play the US junior again this summer and try for the Am again. I missed that by three shots last time.
Will you try for the US Open ?
That would be fun. 'On the first tee, Payne Stewart, Tiger Woods, and Brent Wanner'.
I'm not nervous, I'm playing for myself.
Yeah, 'I told this guy I had an interview with six months ago, I don't get nervous on the first tee."
So don't worry about it.
Yeah, " Don't worry about it. I'm ok,"
Yeah, I'm fine (laugh)
We're sure you've had this question before. You're one of those guys who came out of nowhere. All of a sudden strange guys like me walked up to you, people you've never seen before. The USGA officials from New England knew who you were but everyone else was going 'Brent who?'. Was that weird for you?
It was a little shocking. I didn't realize how much impact it had made while I was there. My friends asked how many coaches talked to me today and I said a few followed me, it won't mean anything. But when I got back (home), I had 12 letters sitting on my desk. I got a couple of calls. All of a sudden from playing local stuff to this attention, it was shocking.
You went on to the Big I and you had a great tournament.
I played a couple of tournaments in between and I played pretty well.
But you really arrived at the US Junior.
People knew you in New England.
Yeah, from playing the Challenge Cup (tournaments). I really owe a lot to the Challenge Cup people. I played at the Highlands in a Cape Cod Junior Golf Association tournament...I owe them a lot too. It's a great association, it was $5 a tournament to play anywhere, all around Cape Cod. It's where I saw Ken (Lewis) and said I gotta pick up my game. Then I played some Challenge Cup tournaments, then Massachusetts, then New England. They have really good fields, 80 guys playing from five different states.
This is good because no one ever thinks about any good junior golf in New England because of the winter.
The Challenge Cup is 20 years old and it really boosted me from the state level to seeing really good players. Then I went on to national tournaments.
You got rejected from some AJGA's.
Yeah, three times from the Tucker Anthony (held on Cape Cod). The first time was when Mike and I were 13 so we really did not have a resume. We'd put down we shot 82 somewhere and I'm sure they're like said 'Ok'. Mike got in and I didn't and I was kind of bitter about that. I applied again next year but still did not have anything either and I didn't get in again. Since Mike had played and played okay, he got in again. I also did not get in the third time. So I really have not had much experience in AJGA tournaments.
Well you can certainly get into any AJGA's you want now. We know several juniors who could really play, like Matt Krauss (Duke, ACC Champion 1999), who couldn't get into tournaments. In the end they just had to let their sticks do the talking.
Talk about your game now versus when you were younger. You're one of the 'old guys' out here now and the 15 year olds have to compete with you. You remember those days? Tell us what's different.
Obviously yardage. I probably hit 100 yards further than I did two years ago. That's a lot of difference. I learned to score a lot more. If I'm playing badly, like today I played one of the worst rounds I've played in a while and I shot 78 (Blue Monster-Doral) which isn't that bad. It's just saving yourself, calming yourself down, being able to stand on the tee and say 'forget that'. This is the first hole, start over again.
You think you're better at that since you're a little bit older?
Right. And just having tournament experience and knowing that you're not out of it if you've played two bad holes. You've got 34 other holes at least, staying calm, and having fun really. There are a lot of mechanical differences too. I've improved a great deal mechanically, especially over the last year. Just basic swing mechanics.
Do you do any cross training? Do you lift weights?
Yeah, actually I started that. For two months I lifted everyday. I don't run, I don't like it very much. I also still play basketball
Upper body? Legs?
Mostly upper body. For a while I think my legs were too strong and controlled too much of my swing.
If all the golf course are closed, what does Brent do to enjoy himself?
I don't know. I think I have a range of interests. I try to keep myself diversified. I like to play pool. I love basketball. Girls could definitely in there. I love to read a lot. Learn another language. One of the first things I would do is read a lot more. Science and math is what I enjoy doing. My big decision was between Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. I'd really like to do something in astrophysics and they offer some of the courses at Wake. But who knows, I'm not totally sure. I might find Greek mythology and love it.
In his book, Golf is not a Game of Perfect, Bob Rotella talks about confidence, composure and concentration. Evaluate yourself in each of those three areas. Is one better than the others?
Definitely. I think number one is concentration. It's by far the best thing I do. If someone yells in the middle of my backswing, I'll hear it, but it won't bother me. It's what I do best. When I really need to concentrate I can.
Confidence is third. That's one of the things I have been working on. I've been known to be very negative. But I've become a lot more positive. I have a ways to go but it will help me get better.
My composure has gotten a lot better. Just being the competitive person that I was it was easy to get mad. If you lose a hole playing a match it's easy to get really angry and that comes from experience. It's just one hole, just one shot, its all right, there's more to go. But getting angry, keeping it inside, being competitive, can really help a lot, actually. But I stay composed really well.
Couple more questions. When you measure your game what are your yardsticks?
Greens in reg. How comfortable I feel over my putter. How the club feels in my hand.
If a part of your game goes, what goes first?
Ball striking. Especially the tee ball. If you're a tenth of a centimeter off you look really bad. It's really easy for me to lose it if I haven't been hitting balls, not playing. Going to college is going to be great where I can play more. That first year will be good because I won't have that month break, two month break and everything gets off. And obviously the short game. Bunker shots for instance. Here we are in December and I have to remember how to do it. In the summer you just get in there and hit it out and tap it in.
Oh yeah. It's a very simple game. Just hit it out and tap it in. Nothing to it. Last question. When you look back at your junior golf experience, what are you the most proud of?
That's a tough one. I think my development and maturity through the years. I remember starting, it was just...like...I mean...golf has changed me so much.
I wouldn't be the same person I am without out it. I think I've matured twice as fast as I would without it. Just having competition all the time, knowing the people I know, having to deal with different situations like I have and being able to handle it. I'm proud I've made it through these years and I'm still the same person I was before.