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Former Hartford High Golfer Eyes Next Level

  • Joe Toland tees off on the 11th hole during the first day of the Vermont Open at the Green Mountain National golf course in Killington, Vt., on <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Joe Toland tees off on the 11th hole during the first day of the Vermont Open at the Green Mountain National golf course in Killington, Vt., on
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Toland of Hartford, Vt., tosses his golf ball while waiting to putt at the 11th hole during the first day of the Vermont Open at the Green Mountain National golf course in Killington, Vt., on <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Joe Toland of Hartford, Vt., tosses his golf ball while waiting to putt at the 11th hole during the first day of the Vermont Open at the Green Mountain National golf course in Killington, Vt., on
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Toland tees off on the 11th hole during the first day of the Vermont Open at the Green Mountain National golf course in Killington, Vt., on <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Joe Toland of Hartford, Vt., tosses his golf ball while waiting to putt at the 11th hole during the first day of the Vermont Open at the Green Mountain National golf course in Killington, Vt., on <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Killington, Vt. — The Joe Toland that’s taken to Green Mountain National Golf Course for the Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open this week isn’t all that different than the one who patrolled the fairways and greens of Vermont representing Hartford High School.

He’s just a little older. He hopes he’s wiser, too.

Toland’s return home a month after completing a four-year playing career at the University of Charlotte marks the latest phase in his golf evolution. In his third tournament as a professional, he shot a 78-75—150 over his first two days and made the cut on the line.

For this summer, Toland is following the route countless other young New England pro golfers have over the years. He’ll hit most of the tournaments on the state open circuit, filling in with the occasional mini-tour stop. Come the fall, he’ll head back to Charlotte with PGA Tour qualifying school or a regional circuit as his next destination.

“I’m definitely different; I definitely matured a little bit,” the 22-year-old said after his second round in his third event as a pro. “I’ve kind of found ways to make the really bad days a little better and the good days a little better as well. I think everything’s kind of improved over the last few years. … And some mental aspects I’ve improved, too.”

Toland built a solid resume at Hartford before he graduated in 2010. In addition to making the Hurricanes a regular competitor for Vermont Division I team honors, he nearly departed for college as Vermont Amateur champion, riding near the top of the leaderboard before settling for second place at Manchester Country Club that summer.

Toland’s goal for choosing Charlotte came down to more play over more months on tougher courses and against deeper fields and better talent.

“There are so many good players,” Toland said. “If you shoot 69, 70 up here in high school, that’s a good score; you’re probably winning the golf tournament. You can shoot 68, 69, 70 down there in tournaments or in qualifying for our team and not even get in the top 20. (It’s) realizing that your expectations of good golf need to change in order to progress through.”

After two years of part-time play, Toland enjoyed his best season with the 49ers as a junior.

The 2012-13 campaign included a 7-under-par 65 at the fall Pacific (Calif.) Invitational that remains one of the lowest single rounds in program history. (His three-day 203 at Pacific is also among the top-five tourney performances of any 49er.) Toland would end up playing 32 rounds for Charlotte as a junior — more than his other three seasons combined — and finishing with a career-best 74.28 scoring average.

The challenges of NCAA Division I golf never end, however, especially in a program used to regional and national tournament appearances. Coaching changes aren’t uncommon — Toland went through one between his sophomore and junior years — and a lengthy stretch of poor play can make the difference in suiting up or sitting down. He played in only two Charlotte tourneys as a senior.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself; I had a pretty good junior year,” Toland said. “Going into your last year, you go in with either a really relaxed, I’m-gonna-have-fun-with-this attitude, or you go in with, ‘This is my last chance; I really need to do well.’

“I think I got into putting a little too much pressure on myself. I didn’t get off to a great start. With the way our qualifying and our team is set up, if you weren’t playing well and you weren’t in it early, it was kind of hard to get back into the lineup.”

If fewer 49er opportunities had a benefit, it allowed Toland to look ahead to his professional future sooner.

“I just realized that’s a step in my career and that wasn’t the end of it,” Toland added. “I just tried to continue to get better, knowing that as soon as I was done (with college), I needed to get better to continue to compete at a high level.”

Living for the summer with his parents in Lebanon, Toland made his professional debut in early June at the Cape Cod Open, cashing a check after tying for 24th place in a 46-golfer field. Having earned a spot earlier through qualifying, Toland came home with a share of 23rd at last week’s Massachusetts Open, his three-day even-par 216 just five shots off the leaders.

There’s a cost to playing professionally with which college golfers don’t concern themselves. Every tournament has an entry fee; every tournament requires travel, lodging and miscellaneous expenses.

“I was fortunate at Charlotte that we had some pretty good connections with golf club companies so, from an equipment standpoint right now, I’m pretty set,” he said. “I’m kind of getting some financial help. It’s pretty expensive. … We’re looking to find some backing, find some people who want to help me out and see me do well.”

He will continue his tour of New England with many of the region’s state opens and mini-tour stops. Toland will return to North Carolina this fall to prepare for his first shot at qualifying school, all things he envisioned at Hartford High and is realizing now.

“I played this course (Green Mountain National) in high school and played it last year in the New England Am, so I’ve been around it,” Toland said. “It’s always nice to be back in the area and have some family come out. … It’s nice to see all the mountains.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.