Northerner Wilson squashing competition

Cameron Wilson had a record-setting 2009 despite taking a 3 1/2 month break from golf.

Cameron Wilson had a record-setting 2009 despite taking a 3 1/2 month break from golf.

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Cameron Wilson isn’t playing golf these days. Golfweek’s No. 8-ranked junior hasn’t been on a course since November, and he isn’t shagging balls at the range either. In fact, Wilson hasn’t swung a club in nearly two months and doesn’t plan to hit his next golf ball until March.

Wilson, 17, of Rowayton, Conn., is in the midst of his annual 3 1/2-month break from the game. While freezing temperatures and snow prevent him from playing golf during the winter, it hasn’t stopped him from competing. Instead, he satisfies his competitive desire on the squash court – hitting a small, hard black ball instead of a small, hard white one.

As the No. 4 player on the squad at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Conn., he’s not quite as accomplished of a squash player as he is a golfer. Then again, when you’ve achieved as much as Wilson has on the golf course, it’s understandable.

“I love the team aspect of squash,” said Wilson, who has committed to play golf at Stanford next season. “I’m far from the best, but it’s something that keeps me competitive and keeps me in shape during the winter. I don’t know that it’s good for my golf game, but I enjoy it.”

Though Wilson has fun on the hard court, his game on grass suffers. He usually ends squash season with problems in his golf swing. Because his right-handed backswing in squash is similar to his lefty backswing in golf (Wilson is ambidextrous), he picks up bad habits such as bending his knees too much, moving his head, shifting his weight forward too early and getting off balance.

“(Last year) his body motion on the backswing and downswing was off, and that was because of squash,” said Debbie Doniger, Wilson’s longtime coach who is a teacher at the Jim McLean Golf School, as well as director of instruction at Glen Arbor Golf Club in Bedford, N.Y. “In his backswing, he wasn’t loading properly. . . . But Cameron is a quick fixer.”

It usually takes Wilson a few weeks of practice to get rid of the bad tendencies. But after going through this routine for years, Wilson and his parents know to set his schedule light in the early part of the season, then rev it up as the year goes on.

In 2009, Wilson hit his stride in early summer and took off from there. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur, where he advanced to the second round of match play, made it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Junior and won the AJGA Nationwide Insurance Junior.

Yet Wilson considers his 2009 Metropolitan Golf Association Player of the Year honor to be his most rewarding accomplishment because it was the product of a summer’s worth of good play. He’s the youngest MGA Player of the Year recipient, thanks to wins at the MGA Met Amateur Championship – where he also was the youngest-ever winner – and the MGA Carter Cup, where he beat players like David Pastore (No. 68 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings), Sean Kelly (No. 75) and Mike Miller (No. 77; and winner of the Golfweek Junior Invitational).

“Being that it’s from the MGA, it’s a big deal,” said Wilson. “The MGA is one of the most prestigious regional groups in the country, and having my name on the list of champions is special.”

This year, Wilson will up the ante by playing more on the national level. He plans on entering more amateur events with a few prestigious junior tournaments (such as the U.S. Junior) mixed in. Not only that, but Wilson is breaking his own rules.

By planning to begin his season at the Azalea Invitational in late March, Wilson is going against his usual “start slow” mantra. He will follow the Azalea with a trip to the Terra Cotta in mid-April, though he knows he’ll still be rusty from his winter hibernation.

“Hopefully I’ll have gone somewhere warm to work on my game before that,” Wilson said. “I won’t have too many expectations. If I play poorly, I will know it’s just because I didn’t practice as much. There’s not a whole lot to lose.”

Wilson figures there’s plenty to gain, however. By playing in more top-flight amateur events, he hopes to better prepare himself for the start of his career at Stanford, where his goal is to crack the starting five.

After a long winter, Wilson said he won’t need much motivation to get back on the course. He just needs some warm weather.

“It (the winter break) definitely makes me a lot more eager to practice and put in work,” Wilson said. “I’m sick of snow at this point. I cannot wait to get somewhere warm. I keep thinking when I get somewhere warm, my game is going to get so much better.”

And he’s not talking about squash.

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