Patriot at best showing nothingJune 16, 2014
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
What’s happening inside Preston Van Winkle’s head?
To get inside the mind equates to solving the labyrinth of his steely, seemingly unconscious visage. There is seldom any jolt of emotion portrayed upon his firm face, for anything — good shot, bad shot, good putt, bad putt.
“Some people even wonder if he’s breathing sometimes,” Heritage Hills coach Marc Schum kidded.
Frankly, it can sometimes even appear to be a look of chagrin for the Patriot senior, who will tee it up in the two-day boys golf state finals with sophomore teammate Corey Teaford on Tuesday and Wednesday at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. But what that means is he’s locked in. Nothing penetrates his psyche. Not the bunkers guarding the green on the side. Not the 240 yards he’s got to carry to avoid the water looming to the right side of the fairway. Not the 5-foot knee-knocker of a putt that turned out to be the difference between the state finals and summer vacation for the University of Southern Indiana recruit.
Those things may have bothered Van Winkle a few years back. “Now,” he said, “nothing goes through my head besides golf.”
It’s been that way since the day after last year’s regional. Van Winkle didn’t afford himself an offseason.
Last summer, he hit the tournament circuit. Once the nice weather disappeared, Van Winkle descended into his family’s basement for daily swing sessions on the practice mat, pelting drives and irons into a net before moving on to a 15-foot putting green for some short-game reps. Sometimes the sessions lasted 30 minutes. Sometimes, a few hours. If it ever got above 45 degrees outside, he grabbed his bag and hit the course. Thawing fairways were no deterrent.
“You have to put in work to get out what you want,” Van Winkle said. “And if you don’t put in work, you’re not going to get good results.”
So he toiled, and it showed.
He busted out back-to-back 36s to kick off his senior tour de force and followed that up with a 75 at the team’s first 18-hole event two days later at Country Oaks Golf Course in Montgomery.
“I never felt rusty,” Van Winkle said of his early-season start. “Before every year, you have to get the kinks out, but this year, really, I was never rusty and I just kept playing my game. And I guess it worked out pretty good.”
The self-effacement isn’t an act. He deemed his round of 78 at Jasper’s Wildcat Invitational in early May one of his worst rounds all spring. When the wiry 6-foot-2, 140-pound Van Winkle thrashed a fairway shot onto the front of the green on No. 6 from some 220 yards out at Sultan’s Run and knocked in a birdie putt, he still had the ticked-off look of someone who’d found water, broken his favorite club and penciled in a snowman on the same hole.
“Nice four,” Preston’s brother and 2012 Heritage Hills graduate Cody chirped from a cart as his younger sibling walked off the green.
Nothing from Preston.
No hat tip. No nod. No smile. Definitely no smile.
By his calculations, Schum has seen Van Winkle crack a grin roughly four times in his four years.
“I have not seen anybody stay as calm as him on the outside. Nobody,” Schum said. “You know something has got to be going on on the inside. It has to be. You just don’t see it.”
Therein lies the deception.
“I actually do smile quite a bit while playing,” Van Winkle said. “Nobody sees it, though.”
Like when he preserved par with a 5-foot putt on the final hole of Thursday’s regional, fastening his 73 and a spot in the five-person playoff for the remaining spot at state.
He beamed then. And that’s understandable given the results of Van Winkle’s refined focus to guide the team the past two years.
Not only has Van Winkle stocked 10 rounds of par or better this season — including medalist rounds of 70 at the Pocket Athletic Conference meet and the Providence Invitational and two rounds of 34 — but he’s never had a blow-up round either, Schum emphasized. In fact, that 78 at the Wildcat Invite, which he duplicated at sectional, was indeed his “worst” round.
“This year, his focus has been unbelievable,” the Patriot coach said.
The vision comes out during practice. While Van Winkle may softly sing songs that pop into his head every so often — he’s been known to go a cappella on a few “High School Musical” jams — he’s also not afraid to keep younger teammates in line, being the squad’s only four-year player and one of only two seniors.
If Dakota Deller, the team’s chatty, free-spirited freshman, wants to blabber away, Van Winkle won’t hesitate to crack the whip.
“I’ve never touched the kid, as much as I sometimes wanted to,” Van Winkle cracked dryly. “He listens pretty well, until 20 minutes later and he’s doing the same thing again.”
Van Winkle thinks back to his freshman and sophomore campaigns, recalling his mental game being more a whirling dervish when “everything went through my head,” he said.
In his latter years on the squad, he’s channeled the happy thoughts. And with a slightly freer swing — his aim is to hit every green in regulation, par 5s included — he’s now taking aim with a steady blend of boldness and brains.
“I’m pretty fearless this year, really. I don’t hold anything back,” he said. “But there’s a difference between being fearless and stupid. If you’re in the rough with a buried lie, you’re not going to hit it 240 yards. You’ve got to be smart, but you can be fearless, too.”
Just don’t expect Van Winkle to show it.
Contact Joe Jasinski
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