Johansen's Covrig busy, but there's time for golf

When the rain began pelting the turf at Modesto Municipal Golf Course on Tuesday, Daniel Covrig didn't think it was enough to cancel Johansen High's match with Davis.

An afternoon downpour, a stiff breeze and some puddles forming the fairway? Covrig has played in much worse.

He slogged through ankle-deep water and withstood icy wind in February to make the round of 16 at the San Francisco City Championship.

It was as much a test of the junior's talent as his resolve.

"You've got to play in whatever weather is out there," he said. "It's not going to be sunny and nice for every round."

Dealing with adverse weather — last summer he played a junior tournament in 110-degree heat — is but one of the many lessons he has learned.

Not all of those lessons have come on the course, however.

"Daniel's realized that if he wants to play college golf, and it's a goal, he'll need the right classes and the right grades," said Marvin Covrig, whose son is the Modesto Metro Conference's top player. "Daniel is balancing a lot right now."

A busy golf schedule, a demanding academic load and a role in Johansen's leadership program can keep Covrig going from 6 a.m. to midnight.

He gave up water polo this year because there weren't enough hours in the day, but you won't hear a complaint from the Johansen junior.

"High school is fun," said Daniel, watching the rain fall from inside the pro shop at Modesto Muni. "It gets busy, but it also makes you become good at time management."

There are days Covrig gets to school at 7 for a leadership meeting, is on the golf course with his team until 5:30 p.m. and then will plow through a pile of homework before bed.

Covrig won't say how much time homework requires, but he has four Advanced Placement courses — U.S. history, English literature, chemistry and calculus — in addition to his advanced biology course.

AP courses are a significant step above the routine. Students scoring high on tests at the end of each semester can often bypass college courses.

Demanding, yes, but not surprising considering Covrig's desire to over-achieve.

Unlike many top-level players, Covrig wasn't born into a family of golfers. His father didn't pick up a pair of clubs until Daniel asked about golf.

"As Daniel expressed more interest in the game, I began paying more attention to the game," Marvin said. "He was 7 or 8 at the time, but he was still playing tennis and other sports, too. It was two, three years ago that Daniel got into competitive tournaments."

It's been a rapid ascent, and it reached another level in December when Daniel was selected the Junior Golf Association of Northern California's Player of the Year.

That followed a torrid campaign that included winning the George Maroney Junior Championships in Modesto, the Castlewood Junior in Pleasanton and making the America's Junior Cup Team.

His improvement has corresponded with a sharper short game, everything from putting to chipping to the green.

"Someone saw me hitting to the green and noticed I was hitting high, trying to land it next to the hole," Daniel said. "They suggested I keep it low, letting the ball hit sooner and having it rolling to the hole."

It's part of Daniel's attempt to round out his game, a necessary evolution if he is to play at the collegiate level.

"My short game will get better as I mature and gain experience," he said. "It will provide me with more birdie opportunities. I'd like to reach a level where I can cut three or four strokes off my round."

Daniel won the MMC title as a freshman and will try to add another crown when the city's six public high schools meet April 27 at Dryden Park.

The 18-hole postseason tournaments, Daniel said, call for a different approach than the 9-hole conference matches.

"If you're playing 18 holes, you try to avoid risky shots," he said. "You have plenty of opportunities for birdies, so you try to avoid big numbers that would put you in a hole."