They Want to Be Professionals, So They Practice What the Pros Do; Bartram Trail Junior Read Nicklaus' Biography at 12, Visits Leadbetter Academy in Orlando

Article excerpt

Byline: EMILY MOSIER, The Times-Union

BOYS GOLFER OF THE YEAR

Toby Ragland

Even as a young boy, Toby Ragland wanted to be a professional golfer. It was always his response to the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

He would answer: "A professional golfer," or, "A golf teacher."

The Bartram Trail High School junior is working on his goal. He won the Class 2A state championship this year and is The Times-Union's 2003 All-First Coast Boys Golfer of the Year.

The dream isn't a surprise. Ragland was born into a life of professional golf. His father Jim played professional golf for 10 years, with a dream of getting on the PGA Tour. At 2, Toby's father would take him to some of his pro events. Toby would hit the ball for fun with cut-off clubs, but the highlight at that age was Tour events in Orlando. After the golf in Orlando, the family would go to Disney.

At 8 years old, Ragland entered his first event. The 10-hole match at Marsh Creek was fun for Ragland, and it pushed him to more events. At 12, he was competing at out-of-town events, eventually leading to American Junior Golf Association events.

Ragland became an avid reader of anything golf. His father had several golf magazines and books around the house that Ragland engrossed.

"He was always self-motivated," Jim Ragland said. "At 12, he was reading my copy of Jack Nicklaus' biography."

Nicklaus became an inspiration for Toby.

While Ragland was gaining success on the AJGA tour, his "breakout" moment came in the spring of his freshman year.

During a routine football game in his physical education class, Ragland snapped his tibia, a bone between the knee and ankle, and was placed in a cast for 10 weeks. The first event he could play after the break was the multi-day AJGA event at the World Golf Village. Although Ragland lost the event by two strokes, it gave him the confidence that he could compete on a higher level.

Both father and son were beginning to realize the potential there was to continue playing golf after high school and in more competitive events.

In the 1980s, Jim was coached by now-legendary mentor David Leadbetter. Leadbetter suggested that Toby visit Kevin Smeltz at the Leadbetter Academy in Orlando. Ragland has visited the academy eight times since September of 2002. He said one advantage of working with Smeltz is learning the same techniques and ideas that his father learned from Leadbetter during his golf career. So now, when he is away from the academy, he can work with his father on techniques.

"Working with Kevin has definitely lowered my scores", Toby Ragland said. "He helps me a lot with my swing and mechanics."

Many young golfers struggle with the combination of the mental and physical parts of the game. But Bartram Trail coach Pete Peaver said the mental aspect was never a problem for Ragland.

"He never seems to get distracted on the course," Peaver said.

And it shows. Ragland has served as the No. 1 player for the Bartram team for the past two years. He medaled in 10 matches this season and crafted a nine-hole scoring average of 35. He also had 18-hole scores of 67 and 70.

Ragland was the only player in Class 2A to shoot a 67. In the regional tournament, he was one of three players in the state to shoot a 68.

A year ago his family joined Palencia Golf Club in St. Augustine, and Ragland said the people there have been very good to him. Family friend and director of golf John Upton helps Ragland's game. …