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Sylvania native Aaron Liebenthal graduated from Sylvania Northview a year ago with a plan.
He had hopes of competing in college, but interest from coaches didn’t come calling the way he had hoped.
That led to Liebenthal taking action he thought would make coaches interested. He passed on college and instead attended the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
“I wanted to play college golf, and my game wasn't ready for college golf at the time,” Liebenthal said.
Talks with his parents led the avid golfer to search for a place to work on his game without using a year of college eligibility. After spending hours researching academy programs, he felt the full-time golfing school named after the instructor most known for working with Tiger Woods was the place.
The IJGA offered the opportunity to spend approximately nine months working on his game, which he first started at age 6.
The program’s schedule calls for students to play daily, Liebenthal said. Students are instructed on their full swing, short game, course management, mental preparation, and fitness training. Besides working with individually assigned instructors, students also get instruction from Haney at times.
The program also gave Liebenthal a chance to use what he had learned in matches and tournaments. Not only did he compete against others at the academy, he played in tournaments.
It was a case of putting what they learned into real action.
“We practiced and played almost every day from sunrise to sundown,” said Liebenthal, among dozens of golfers from 22 countries and 22 states to spend the last nine months in the program at Pinecrest Golf Club in Bluffton, S.C.
He said the program didn’t focus on individual averages as much as placing more attention on fundamentals and approach to the game. Improved scores would come with overall improvement.
“My game overall has gotten a lot better,” Liebenthal said.
He wasn’t sure what his average was before entering the academy or what it is now that he’s completed it. “Sometimes my scores will show it, and sometimes I’m my old self.”
Perhaps the most significant tournament was representing the United States at an International Junior Challenge in Canada in September. He was one of four members of Team USA, which placed in the Top 10.
Northview coach Mike Czerniakowski said Liebenthal was a three-year letterwinner in golf, but never the top golfer on the Wildcats team.
“He always had a ton of potential, but it was a matter of trying to focus that potential,” Czerniakowski said. “It’s neat to see the maturity process on his part.”
The two have spoken a few times since Liebenthal honed his skills at the academy. Czerniakowski is not surprised to hear about Liebenthal’s improved game.
“He was at the Haney School — I don’t think you can go through that school without working on focusing and improving on all aspects of your game,” he said.
Liebenthal said his drive to become a better golfer was partly motivated by being a member of the Northview hockey team that won the Division I state championship in 2012.
“That was amazing being on the first state championship team at Northview to win for any sport,” he said. “We really worked hard, and I took that dedication over into golf. I’d never worked that hard before.”
Part of his work regimen at the academy was to enroll as a part-time student at the University of South Carolina, taking classes at night. He often had to study until midnight after spending the day on the golf course.
All the work paid off when he attracted interest from a number of colleges before deciding to sign with Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. He will begin playing golf and studying international business in the fall.
In the meantime, he plans to keep working on his game through the summer at the Inverness Club and play rounds with his father, Jon.
Liebenthal has no doubts his decision to attend the Hank Haney academy was a good one.
“If I couldn’t have done this, I probably wouldn’t be able to play college golf.”
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