Patriot League All-Star and two-year captain Owen Manning sets the tone for the Whitman-Hanson Regional High golf team, on and off the course.
It was the first day of school at Whitman-Hanson Regional High, which also happened to be the hottest day in two months, as the temperature approached the century mark.
The heat caused many coaches around state to cancel practice. W-H golf head coach Brian Dempsey decided that rather than forcing his team’s way through a sluggish day on the course, he was going to hold a meeting in his classroom. The Panthers went over rules and exceptions for the season.
It was what happened at the conclusion of that team meeting that set the tone for their 2018 campaign. Senior captain Owen Manning organized a trip down the course and brought along a number or his teammates – many of whom were underclassmen – and led them in putting drills for nearly two hours. The session consisted of playing the game “the wheel,” where each player gets a partner that they start opposite and if they miss the putt, they stay at their spot. A made putt advances the player, as they try to catch their opponent.
Freshman Patrick McBroom’s outlook on high school golf shifted after that practice.
“I just found out that [golf] was a commitment more than just being on the team,” McBroom said. “Some of us stayed that first day because we all have something to work on and can always get better. People always tell me that the short game is where we lose strokes, so I decided to dedicate my time at the range that day to just that.”
Sophomore Aidan Miller also took part in the session.
“Practices like that are what really help us get better,” Miller said. “Games like we play at practice help with concentration [and] teamwork.”
Manning said he felt it was his duty to act as a captain and pitch in when and where he can to try and set a standard for everyone to follow.
“I just wanted to get the reps in and be dedicated to the sport,” Manning said of the first practice. “I love doing it and if I’m doing it, it’s going to show the other kids that they should do it. It really helps them.”
Dempsey said it came as no surprise to him when he caught wind of what his captain had organized.
“They were there for hours practicing doing drills and he’s leading them through that and everything,” the seventh-year head coach explained. “Everyone is still doing those same drills and he kind of set that tone early on, which again is a huge credit to him.”
It was a tone that was essential to set when he did, especially after the graduation of nine seniors, which opened the door for five freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and a senior to join the roster. Dempsey noted his club was expected to fall off from last season, when it went 9-8 and made the tournament for the fourth time in five seasons, but instead it’s done anything but take a step back. Through the Panthers’ first eight matches, they sit at 5-3. They opened at 5-1, their best start that Dempsey can recall.
“Where we’re so young, there’s so many inexperienced players, and there’s so many kids on the team that and they don’t really know what the norm is,” Dempsey said, “and in a lot of ways, that’s to our advantage. The things they’re starting early on, that’s all these kids know.”
Manning has been a steady presence since he joined the team as a freshman, but since being named a captain last season as a junior, he’s become a source of intelligence for Dempsey, who relies heavily on him.
“At the range, practice days, even before matches and stuff, he’s always someone I call over and just say, ‘Hey, what are you seeing on the course?'” Dempsey said. “I can’t be with every single player. He is very much like another coach on the team. I trust what he says.”
It’s a trust and confidence Dempsey has in Manning that the senior has built over the years. Last season, Manning was tabbed the team MVP and named a Patriot League All-Star. Against Duxbury, he carded a 2-over 36 to help the Panthers knock off the Dragons for the first time ever.
“He’s just grown a lot,” Dempsey said. “He’s really matured. He’s kind of come into his own. He’s more confident in who he is as a person and as a golfer.”
Golf is a family affair for Manning that stems from his father and has carried on into the next generation.
“It was mostly my dad who talked me into playing golf, but [my brothers], Cole and Cam, have been a big part of it,” Manning said. “They’ve been mostly a little better than me, so it gives me the edge to get out there and be as good as them and beat them when we play together.”
A Manning has been penned on the golf team’s roster for seven straight seasons. Cole played under Dempsey from 2012-2015 and Cam played from 2012-2014. Dempsey said he sees a lot of similarities in their approaches to the game.
“They put time in at the range [and] they put in the time at the putting greens,” Dempsey said. “They do the things that aren’t considered fun by most kids, but it pays off.”
So far this season, Manning has picked up where he left off last fall. He paced the Panthers to a season-opening win against North Quincy (2-over par 36), led the team to a win against Duxbury again (2-over par 36) and was match medalist in a triumph over Quincy (7-over par 42).
“I’ve improved a lot,” Manning said. “My game’s just developed a lot. Practicing chipping and putting is a big help because that’s where you shave the strokes off right there – the chipping and putting – the short game.”
Manning said his goals for the rest of the season are to continue to leave a positive and long-lasting impression on the rest of his teammates.
“I try to step up big when we go to the range,” he said. “Help other kids with their swing, do some drills with them and help them improve their game as much as possible.”