Griffin Steutel leads Golfweek Sandestin Amateur with mentor, former amateur star Manny Zerman in the wings

Manny Zerman’s name hasn’t been tossed around in golf circles for nearly two decades. Zerman was once among the biggest up-and-comers in amateur golf. He was runner-up at the 1990 and 1991 U.S. Amateur (falling to Phil Mickelson in ’90) and finished as low amateur at the 1992 Masters, the same year he helped Arizona win the NCAA title.

Zerman was in the same category as Mickelson in those days: a twentysomething with big game.

On Sunday, Mickelson won his second consecutive PGA Tour Champions event in Virginia. Meanwhile, in the Florida panhandle, Zerman walked quietly behind his best student, Oglethorpe freshman Griffin Steutel at the Golfweek Sandestin Amateur.

Steutel, his student for the past five years, posted a 4-under 67 in the opening round for a one-shot lead in a field of college players and amateurs far more experienced than him.

“I was finding fairways and greens and I was able to step up and make a couple putts,” Steutel said of that round.

Zerman hasn’t hit a shot in competitive golf since his opening tee shot at the 2000 Open Championship at St. Andrews. By the time he had arrived at his golf ball for the next shot, he had decided professional golf wasn’t for him. He retired from playing on the spot after a short career that included a win on the Canadian Tour, one on the Asian Tour and a loss in a seven-hole playoff in a Korn Ferry Tour (then the Tour) event.

“I played golf because I was good at it, not because I had the passion for it,” he said. “I haven’t had a regret since. I walked away from it and now I’m a happy person and I enjoy giving back.”

Zerman knew he wanted a career in golf, so he pursued one as an instructor instead. That brought him to the Raven Golf Club at Sandestin Resort this week with Steutel.

Four months ago, Steutel lost his father John unexpectedly. Since then, Steutel, a recent graduate of Miami Country Day School, has worked just to get his game back on track and keep moving forward.

Still, when Steutel’s freshman season at Oglethorpe, which competes at the NCAA Division III level, didn’t start as expected this fall, he scheduled a few individual starts. Steutel played two events sponsored by the Golf Coaches Association of America over the past two months. He asked Zerman to travel with him, something his dad had often done.

“I’ve gotten a lot of help,” Zerman said of an amateur career boosted mightily by the generosity of a San Diego couple who took in the young South African when he was looking to get his career off the ground. Eventually, that couple adopted Zerman, and they remained close all their lives.

Golfweek Sandestin: Men’s scores | Women’s scores

Zerman didn’t set out to pay that back, but it has worked out that way.

“Opportunities come around and you take them,” he said. “It does end up being that but it’s not what I thought about. It just came naturally.”

After his playing career ended in 2000, Zerman eventually made his way to the Diplomat Golf Resort in Hollywood, Florida to work as the director of golf. It was his first teaching gig, and where he operated the Manny Zerman School of Golf from 2001-08.

He has since taught at La Gorce (2008-10) and Miami Shores.

The game has changed considerably since Zerman was competing as an amateur in the early ‘90s, thanks mainly to technology advancements. Zerman references all the players – both professional and amateur – that tote a Trackman, or similar technology, with them everywhere they go.

Zerman has a stable of about 10 juniors. It’s a “full book,” and keeps him working about four and a half days a week. Steutel often will pick Zerman’s brain about his playing experiences, but Zerman won’t volunteer those stories unless Steutel asks for them.

Zerman knows the game at every level. That helps him develop a player’s preparation.

“Especially mentally and how to approach practicing is a key to me,” Zerman said. “My most important things with my students is teaching them how to practice like a professional. Because that’s one thing you can do as an amateur, you can practice just like a pro. So I’m very, very, very hard on my students on how they practice.”

In Steutel, Zerman sees a player who is passionate about golf. Steutel hopes to turn professional some day.

“I plan to make that happen,” he said. “In order to do that, I need to work on more my short game.”

Long-game work is more tempting, but he’s been taking the wedges out of his bag these days more than the driver, working especially hard in the 100- to 150-yard range. He and Zerman talk about placement, but they also talk about things outside of golf.

Steutel had to mentally prepare himself to compete this fall for the first time without his dad. The first starts were emotional, but Zerman was there.

Before he left Miami for the event in Sandestin, Steutel fired his first bogey-free round at Miami Shores. It felt like a breakthrough on many levels.

“I had a different feeling coming to Destin,” Steutel said.

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