Being an “enthusiast” is often enough to get you a high school golf team coaching job. It worked out well for past Edgemont girls coaches George DiChiara and Bryan Paul, so the Panthers are expecting the same positive result with new coach Mitch Shapiro.
Shapiro, the high school’s psychologist for 10 years, had coached baseball every year until last spring, just waiting for a spot to open up in the golf program. With eight-year coach Paul not having the time to dedicate to the team after taking an interim assistant principal job at Edgemont, Shapiro finally got his shot.
“I play 25 or 30 rounds a year and I’m about a 10 handicap,” Shapiro said. “I’ve always wanted to coach here, but there were two coaches doing the boys and girls teams, so I was kind of waiting my turn.”
DeRosa knew Shapiro was an avid golfer and knew his abilities as a coach from baseball, a sport he was beginning to tire of after a lifetime in the game.
“I think Mitch is a really good fit because the particular area he’s involved in at the school as the psychologist will help,” DeRosa said. “Golf is a very psychological game and that facet of it Mitch can really help the girls out there.”
Paul built the program after taking over from DiChiara in 2011 when DiChiara switched over to the boys. The program went from learn to play to having a strong presence within Section 1 and multiple state qualifiers.
This year the team returns three sectional qualifiers, including state competitor Evelyn Chiu.
“It’s great to have one who went to states and three to sectionals who know the things I don’t know about the experience on the courses, working at the driving range, what has worked really well and then hopefully we develop a mutual respect about what I can bring that’s maybe a little different than Mr. Paul or what we keep the same,” Shapiro said. “It’s definitely going to help us to have girls who have been there before to communicate with the other girls to help them develop.”
As a familiar face in the building already, Shapiro already knows some of the 11 — possibly 12 — golfers.
“I know he’s been talking to Mr. Paul to keep a lot of the things the same, so I think he’s going to do a good job,” junior Alexis Chan said. “I think Mr. Paul is going to stop by a couple of practices, so that will be exciting to see a familiar face. Dr. Mitch also works at the school, so a lot of people already know him. I think he’ll do a good job.”
Though Paul had no involvement in the hiring process, he said he counseled several interested candidates, including Shapiro, once the job was posted over the winter. Paul and Shapiro have hit the course together over the years and he thinks the “team is in good hands.”
“He’s got great relationships with students in the building already,” Paul said. “I think there is a part of this that in coaching golf there’s skill you have to coach, there’s etiquette, there’s rules, but the thing that is probably most important in particular for the beginning golfer who is trying to get comfortable with it is the psychological aspect of it. It’s trying to get them to a place where they are able to do this. Mitch is a trained psychologist and I can’t imagine a better fit for that.”
Though he doesn’t have golf coaching experience per se, Shapiro is constantly helping friends and family with their technique and approach. That’s something he feels confident about bringing to Edgemont.
Shapiro learned the game from his grandfather at age 12.
“He was kind of a gruff guy, was hard on me and I always said if I ever got an opportunity to do this I would not be that way, but I’ve taken a lot of what he’s given me,” Shapiro said. “He gave me a love of the game and I started playing a lot when I was 17 or 18. When I was golfing with somebody new I enjoyed breaking it down for them and they have given me a lot of praise for how I do that.”
It’s a big learning curve for Shapiro as he gets acclimated with the rules and inner-workings of Section 1 golf, but he’s already off to a smooth start at the driving range with his team.
“It’s me connecting with them, them getting to understand me and we’ll hit a lot of balls,” he said. “I’ll get a sense of their swings. It’s getting to know who they are and how far they have to go. There’s also etiquette so when they get on the course they’re ready to go.”
With a wide range of golf abilities on the team, Shapiro will be busy balancing his time to meet the needs of all of his players. Some it will be more physical, some more mental.
“As much as I apply it to my own game I think it’s helped me an awful lot to think about the game in terms of the mental side of it,” Shapiro said. “They put enough pressure on themselves academically and this game is a very heady game. Helping them with some things that helped me over the years is what I’m hoping to do.”