Fort Mill Middle School seventh-grader John Neal knew he was getting better at golf, he just didn't know how good.
Neal has improved so much he caught the attention of "Golf Digest." The magazine, with the help from state and regional golf associations and handicap vendors, looked all over the country for golfers whose handicaps have dropped in 2007. Analyzing those, the magazine listed the highest drops in handicaps from January 2007 to December 2007 and divided them among four categories -- men's low handicap, men's middle handicap, women's and juniors - doing so for each state.
The 13-year-old Neal, who plays on the Nation Ford High golf team, was named as the junior golfer for South Carolina. He dropped his handicap in 2007 17.2 stokes, from 27.2 to 10.0. His improvement was not only the best one in the state for a junior golfer, but for all four listed from the state.
But Neal had no idea we was on the magazine's radar. If it wasn't for his friend Corey Verhage, fellow seventh-grade golfer and Nation Ford teammate, Neal might not have found out for quite some time.
"I called him immediately and told him your name is in "Golf Digest," Verhage said.
Verhage, a subscriber, was looking through the magazine and saw Neal's name. When he saw that it was in the junior golf category and he belong to the Fort Mill Golf Course, he knew it was him.
Neal didn't believe him at first.
"I thought he was talking about some other John Neal," Neal said.
For Neal, golf is still a fairly new game. He has only been playing for about two and a half years.
"I started watching it on TV and I just wanted to be out here," he said. "Just being out here with the guys and walking 18 (holes) beats anything else really."
Knowing he was serious about the game, Neal found a coach right off the bat to help him with his game - Brent Reneau at the Fort Mill Golf Course.
Neal's philosophy behind playing is simple: "I have a lot of fun," he said. "It's pretty much that."
Neal said he plays every chance he gets and is usually up early to go to the course. Playing as often as he was, he knew he was getting better.
"I knew there was a big improvement, but didn't think it was enough to make 'Golf Digest,'" he said.