Wyatt riding Tide to turnaround

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Bobby Wyatt’s frustrations with golf mounted in the summer of 2007. The same Bobby Wyatt who now ranks in the top-10 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, at times didn’t know how much more he could take. Several times he quit his practice session because he was hitting the ball so poorly.

It had been nearly a year since undergoing major swing changes and he still wasn’t seeing the desired results.

“To his credit, though it was an incredibly frustrating period of time, he realized to make those changes it would take a great deal of time,” said Wyatt’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero.

Wyatt, now 16 and a junior at UMS-Wright Preparatory School in Mobile, Alabama, hit a low two years ago, averaging several shots over par in AJGA events.

Wyatt was not used to struggling.

At 14, Wyatt won junior tournaments across Alabama. But he still had days when if his timing was off, he would hit the ball all over the place, he said. And in the back of his mind he knew that his swing lacked consistency.

“I knew down the road it would start to fail me,” he said.

So, he turned to Tony Ruggiero at the Hank Johnson School of Golf in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., about a two-hour drive from his home, in the fall of 2006. It was a tough leap for Wyatt considering he was successful with what he had.

But what he had, Ruggiero said was “putting a ceiling on how good he could be.”

Wyatt had bad posture at address. He swung the club with lots of arm and wrist movement, used his hands to control the club face and had a tendency to slide his hips leading to inconsistency, a loss of balance and, ultimately, power.

During the past two years, Ruggiero has helped tighten Wyatt’s swing, which has enabled him to get more on top of the ball and make more consistent contact. Ruggiero got Wyatt to match his arms to his pivot so he doesn’t get ahead of the ball and as a result Wyatt has gained a great deal of distance and has become a better striker of the ball, Ruggiero said.

However, success with the new swing didn’t come right away.

Wyatt competed at the same time he was making the changes, making it even more difficult for them to fall into place. For short periods of time – sometimes months – he still wasn’t hitting the ball well. High scores and inconsistent play persisted.

“Nothing ever seemed to click,” he said.

His frustrations mounted and he questioned whether he was doing the right thing.

“It was a really trying time,” Ruggiero said. “It was really difficult on him personally. He had a lot of self doubt, probably for the first time in his life.”

As a teacher, Ruggiero was going through some of the same things. He felt a great deal of pressure to help Wyatt. The results weren’t showing and Ruggiero even started to doubt his teaching methods.

He didn’t want to be known as the guy who ruined Bobby Wyatt.

“It would have been easy during that time to say the path he was on with his instruction wasn’t the right one for him, but he believed he has on the right track, though he wasn’t getting the results,” Ruggiero said.

Nonetheless, Wyatt continued to plug away, putting his trust in his instructor and focusing on making it work.

Then, last summer things started to turn around.

“It’s like a button went off and all of a sudden he said, ‘I can do this. It feels pretty good,’ ” Ruggiero said.

Wyatt’s vision and determination are attributes “not a lot of kids have when they’re his age,” Ruggiero said.

The difficulties taught Wyatt what it takes to be a successful golfer and the game isn’t as easy as it once might have appeared.

Wyatt won the Club Car Junior in July and followed with a stretch of three top-6 finishes in four starts.

Most recently in mid-February, Wyatt found himself in contention at the HP Boys Championship, an AJGA invitational in The Woodlands, Texas. He shared the 36-hole lead with Patrick Winther at 4-under heading into the final round.

Wyatt was in control, going 3-under on his front nine at the Club at Carlton Woods. However, he wasn’t able to keep that momentum going and shot 3-over 39 on the back nine.

Winther overtook first place and finished at 5-under to take the victory.

“A lot of that was nerves,” Wyatt said. “I’ve been there but not in a tournament of that magnitude.”

Wyatt has found his game again. He is No. 8 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings and though his swing isn’t completely there yet, he says it is a huge relief that it has come back around.

Wyatt committed earlier this year to Alabama, where he will join Cory Whitsett, the No. 2-ranked junior in the country for a fall 2010 enrollment. Alabama, ranked No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, faces some of the toughest competition in the country each year.

“In order to be the best,” Wyatt said, “you have to play with the best.”

By then, that summer of 2007 could be a distant memory.

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