Despite being a relative newcomer to golf, Mike Steinberg of West Hartford quickly made a name for himself on the Connecticut Section PGA Junior Golf Tour this summer.
The 18-year-old Steinberg is ranked ninth in the Tour standings and will compete with the top 20 golfers in the Jack Kelly Junior Tournament of Champions at the Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam this Sunday with a good chance at improving his final rank.
A top-10 finish will mark an astounding climb for Steinberg, who only started playing golf competitively roughly three years ago. A longtime soccer and lacrosse player, Steinberg decided to try golf his sophomore year at after become disillusioned with the school's lacrosse program.
He quickly became enamored with the continual challenge golf offered, drawing him back to the golf course to relish good shots and correct bad shots.
“I consider myself an athlete and I pick up sports pretty quickly,” Steinberg said. “I started out as a bogey golfer shooting 42 to 45 and then I just got hit by the golfing bug. People say that once you get hit by the bug, you are addicted and I played every day going into junior season. After being on junior varsity my sophomore year, I went to the number one player on varsity my junior year.”
His numbers kept improving as he trimmed his handicap from 18 to eight at the start his junior season and ended with a handicap of three by the season's end.
Steinberg decided to join the CT PGA Junior Tour that summer and picked up valuable experience.
“The first year I had what I consider a very successful season because our home course at Hall is and it is known as an easy course. People say that those who play at Rockledge can't play anywhere else, so playing on the Tour taught me how to play away courses. On the Tour, you show up at a course one day and then you go home. Then you show up the next day and play a different course, so it teaches you how to play in different settings and how to play under the pressure of tournament golf. I think the Tour was most important part of the development of my game.”
The Tour experience helped Steinberg secure a spot on the All-Central Connecticut Conference West team his senior year and a trip to the CIAC Div. I Championship for his team.
When he came back to the CT PGA Junior Golf Tour this summer, Steinberg discovered a new-found confidence that led to a first-place finish at the Tour's opening tournament, the 18-Hole Ellington Ridge Camera Memorial in June.
“My confidence on the Tour is much higher this season on top of being a whole year better at golf,” he said. “I think that when I come to a tournament now, I believe that I can win. Last year, I would have been satisfied with a top-10 finish for each event, but this year I feel that if I wasn't in the top three, it was a bad day.”
This month, Steinberg sealed up his solid Tour season with a third-place finish at the 18-Hole Oak Ridge Junior Open and a second-place spot in the 18-Hole John D. Wardlaw Memorial.
With his growing confidence leading to better scores, Steinberg earned a tryout for the University of Connecticut Men's Golf team next week. He hopes to use the Jack Kelly Tournament as a confidence builder as he readies for the tryout.
“It is important for me to play at Jack Kelly because the Tour has been one of the most positive experiences in my entire life. It has given me things that I wouldn't be able to do if I hadn't done the Tour and I owe so much to them. I also wanted to play in the tournament because I wanted a chance to play in a really competitive atmosphere and on a great course before the tryout.”
In addition to his gratitude to CT PGA Junior Golf, Steinberg credits his coach Dave Pianki from Tower Ridge Country Club and especially his parents, Sue and Jeff, for his success.
“My parents helped and supported me all the way, especially with driving me all over the place to play and I really appreciate what they've done for me,” he said.