North Xtra: Fox Chapel teen gets pro advice

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As many people know too well, life as an avid golfer in Pittsburgh can be an arduous and at times frustrating existence.

It's not due to a lack of quality courses or instructors, but something much more basic -- for a sizable portion of the year, it's difficult even to step onto a course because of snow and unbearably cold temperatures.

David Rice, 16, was one such golfer, born and raised in Fox Chapel, but not being able to fully pursue his passion became too much. He needed to create a new reality for himself.

For the past four months, Rice has been receiving instruction at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C., giving him the chance not only to play when he otherwise couldn't, but also opening up new opportunities to play the sport he loves.

"I just wanted to come down here and play a lot more golf to take my game to the next level," Rice said.

When referring to the IJGA as the "next level," Rice is far from exaggerating.

The academy is similar to other sport-focused schools, many of which are in the South and have achieved greater popularity over the past decade.

Like many students his age, Rice's day begins early -- about 7:30 a.m. -- with class instruction until about 12:30.

After eating lunch, he and the other pupils at the academy receive golf instruction and play on the courses and driving ranges. At night after dinner, there is an hour of exercise before mandatory study time for two-and-a-half hours before lights out at 11 p.m.

"It's a pretty rigorous day," Jim Rice, David's father, said.

For as much as he enjoyed golf, it was a difficult adjustment for Rice, as it would be for almost any adolescent not used to such a demanding schedule. He has grown accustomed to the challenges each day brings.

"When I first got down here, my first few weeks, I was just really, really tired," Rice said. "There was so much golf every day and so much working out. Now, it just seems like a daily activity and you enjoy it because you know it's going to help your game."

Rice grew up in a family of golfers -- both his father and grandfather were avid players -- and began playing when he was about 7 years old. He has played competitively for the past three years and was on the Fox Chapel golf team for two seasons before making the decision to change course, so to speak.

One of Jim's friends had a son at a golf academy in Florida, something that interested David and ultimately prompted him to ask his parents about making a similar move. After looking at a number of schools, Rice visited Haney's academy and had seen enough -- he knew where he wanted to go.

With Haney, the school's director of instruction who most famously was Tiger Woods' coach from 2004-10, overseeing things, Rice has thrived.

"It was a slow start with his golf game because they did change his swing around a little bit," Jim said. "He's turned that around, he's feeling comfortable with his swing and he's starting to get a little bit of lower scores now. He's just enjoying every aspect of that place."

Though the IJGA is closer to Pittsburgh than some of the other schools Rice was considering, it is still more than a 10-hour drive. It was understandably a rough transition for Rice's parents, but they know that it is a change that has helped their son.

"As a parent, I miss him every day," said Maggie Rice, David's mother. "It's terribly hard for me to have him there, but it's a great opportunity."

This summer, Rice will return home to spend time with family and friends, as well as work as a caddie and compete in as many local tournaments as he can.

Just a sophomore this year, Rice hopes to one day play golf in college, a goal that he works toward every day. As he pushes toward that end, he is doing so alongside some of the best junior golfers in the country.

It's a competitive push both internally and externally that led him to Haney's academy, and it is something that makes his time at the school that much more valuable.

"Everyone has the same passion for golf and everyone's into it," Rice said. "That makes it a lot more competitive and that just helps your game a lot -- being around people you can learn from."

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Craig Meyer: or Twitter @craig_a_meyer


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