Wellington’s Vanessa Berrios A Rising Star Among Young Golfers Story by Y.A. Teitelbaum • Photos by Abner Pedraza
Vanessa Berrios received a set of plastic golf clubs when she was four years old, and her passion for the sport has continued to flourish. Ten years later, Berrios is a rising star in junior golf. Berrios recently earned two major awards — Player of the Year and Most Improved Player — at the annual Junior Golf Foundation of America (JGFA) banquet, which recognized leading performers in junior golf from ages 4 to 17 during the 2016 season, while she was still a student at Wellington’s Emerald Cove Middle School. Most Improved Player is determined by a mixture of points for the event and comparing scoring averages from one year to the next, as well as within the tournament year. There is also a points system for Player of the Year. Berrios, who was playing 13 holes at the time, lowered her scoring by 10 strokes. “I used to hit in the 70s; now I’m in the 60s,” said the right-handed Berrios, who turned 14 years old in August. Berrios took her first golf lesson when she was five years old and would go out and play with her father. “I started to get really good when I was 10,” said Berrios, who has a younger sister. “I started to out-drive him when I was 11 or 12.” She now drives the ball about 215 yards. “My drives and irons have always been the best parts of my game,” said Berrios, who started playing in tournaments in 2009. “It’s always nerve-wracking the first time, but it’s always fun, because you meet new people.” Mary-Lee Cobick, head golf professional at the Okeeheelee Golf Course, has been giving Berrios lessons since 84
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2012 and is impressed with her power. “She is a very powerful player for her age, which gives her an advantage. Her long game has improved tremendously in the past year, and she understands pitching, chipping and putting will be her main focus this upcoming year,” said Cobick, who is also president of the JGFA. “She comes from a great family, and her parents are very supportive and encouraging.” Berrios is a one-sport athlete, concentrating solely on golf, which her father also plays. She tried tennis, which her mother plays. “I tried [tennis], and I didn’t like it,” Berrios said. “I don’t like balls moving toward me.” Berrios parlayed her continued improvement into a spot on the Palm Beach Central High School golf team as a freshman and has the lowest scoring average for the Bronco golfers this season. Between playing tournaments in the off-season and for her school, Berrios is a regular at the golf course, refining her game. Her practices vary, depending on the season. “I’ll play holes, then when I see what my weakness is, then I’ll work on that,” said Berrios, explaining her spring and summer routine. She will usually play on a Sunday, and return to the course on Monday and work on her weaknesses at that time. During the fall scholastic season, Berrios usually practices Mondays and
Wednesdays with the team and has matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “For the high school team, I’ll hit a bucket of balls and then play, so it’s the opposite,” Berrios said. “It doesn’t really matter. It works both ways. It’s a lot, but I still love it.” Palm Beach Central girls golf coach Don Persson has a young team, led by Berrios. “She’s very good,” Persson said. “If we get her putting improved, she’s going to make a lot of noise. As far as ballstriking, she’s good. I’m really pleased. She’s getting better and better. We are working to get her confidence up in putting.” Persson said that Berrios is in a transition phase, moving from a dominant player in the juniors to high school against better competition. “But she has the game [to succeed],” Persson said. “She’s a competitor, too, and I like that.” Persson said that Berrios, who is quiet and humble by nature, leads by example, but believes she will eventually become more vocal. “She is being a leader when she plays,” he explained. Berrios uses a mixture of clubs — Callaway irons, a Cobra driver and a Nike putter. “I really like my hybrid; I hit it smoothly,” Berrios said. “That’s my favorite club.” Berrios has won several tournaments, including the fourth Prep Tour Event of the South Florida PGA Junior Prep Tour, where she shot an 83 to win the girls 13-18 age division. But her favorite memory occurred at the third hole at Okeeheelee, a par-3, 383-yard test.
Published on Oct 31, 2017
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