Thursday, August 12, 2010

Holding the Head High

I kept checking the British Boys website as the round of 64 match play results came in Sam's score failed to come up. I knew his match must be tight.

Finally, he called and told me the disappointing news - he had lost in the 19th hole.

He was not as sharp as in the stroke play, he explained. He found himself two down with two holes left to play. He birdied the 17th and tied it up with a par on the eighteenth. The match moved to the first hole, a par five. His opponent birdied. Sam's second shot narrowly missed the green and plunked into the greenside bunker. He made par.

"Sure I'm disappointed," he admitted. "But I'm proud of what I accomplished."

I agree.


Hot off the presses - Sam is fifth after the two rounds of stroke play at the British Boys. He finally seems to have broken through and achieved his potential. I am in far-off Istanbul traveling for work, but Sam was so excited after his minus one second round that he called me right after he finished. He usually sounds nonchalant even after the most amazing exploits. This time, though, he sounded excited.

The British Boys brings together the best 264 under 18 golfers in Europe. It is the major of the summer season, the equivalent of the British Open for boys. Last year, it was played at the Open Course Royal St. Georges and Sam got in only as a wild card. He had a good run and reached the third round, winning his second round match in 26 holes (or was it 25? I don't quite remember since the suspense was so excruciating).

This year Sam had a habit of starting off well, and then crumbling. In last month's English Boys, he shot a sterling par in the first round, putting him in the top twenty. But in the second round, he played scared and crashed out with a ten over 83, failing to make the cut.

At the British Boys, Sam started out with a sparkling two over par on the super hard Dundonald Links. That was the ninth highest score of the day on that course. The British Boys stroke play is spread out over two courses and he tackled the easier (in relative terms) Kilmarnock layout on the second day. I feared for the worst. Instead, Sam played sterling golf, starting with a birdie on the par five opening hole and finishing one under par.

Onto match play which starts today. I'll be rooting from far-off Turkey.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment

Sam bombed out today, shooting 83 and missing the cut. It was a combination of bad luck and bad shooting. He was plus seven after six holes, plugging in a bunker on the second hole and finding two separate bunkers on the sixth.

But I'm really proud of him because he never lost his spirit and he ended with birdie on what was a tough day. He still is smiling and says he wants to go play a links course with me and is looking forward to his next tournament. Two years ago, he would have stopped trying after the sixth hole and he would have been miserable for the rest of the round. It is nice to see him mature through adversity, even though of course it would be even nicer if he continued his hot streak and was contending today for the trophy.

I really have a lot to learn from him. Last night, as I struggled to sleep last night, I kept thinking of how my books never won the equivalent of the English Boys, yet how close I also came to winning the big prize. And, when I reflected, I knew I should be like Sam, to just enjoy playing (or in my case writing) and be proud of what I have achieved. He got into the biggest golf tournament for juniors in Europe and he was more than competitive. I've gotten paid for watching him and others and writing about it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

English Summer

Sam played terrifically today in the first day of the Carris Trophy, shooting even par. The Carris is the English Golf Union's championship for under 18 year old boys and its one of the top junior events in Europe.

It took us almost an entire day to get to this spot in the forgotten wilds of Lincolnshire, almost four hours north of London. Woodhall Spa is devilishly difficult layout, a sort of English version of Pinehurst number 2. The village is built around the golf course and there's not much else to do.

During the first round, Sam handled himself with panache. He missed two fairways on the drives and was penalized with two bogeys. On the last hole, he was trapped behind a tree, and hit a three iron fade 225 yards to 20 feet and drained the putt - for an eagle! If he doesn't blow up tomorrow, he has a good chance of making the cut.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Shooting Dutch

The Dutch International, one of the biggest and best junior golf tournaments in Europe, finished today and I attended the final round of play. Sam easily made the cut, playing well in the first three rounds. He would have liked to be a couple shots further up the scoreboard going into the last day, but he told me over the phone that he was "hitting it better."

I arrived just as he was finishing the third hole. He had birdied the first hole and had a birdie putt on the third. It slipped by, but his solid play continued and he was minus two at the turn. Then disaster struck - self-inflicted. he was just off the green of hole 12 in two, and then took four shots to get the ball in the hole, a double bogey. On the next hole, he pushed his tee shot into a greenside trap, and despite a great sand shot, missed the par putt.

Disaster loomed.

Instead, Sam drilled his next shot on a par three to ten feet and sunk the putt. On the ensuing par five, he had 200 meters to the flag after his tee shot (and a free drop from a rabbit hole - good he asked the referee). His ball headed straight to the flag and looked like it would go in. He ended up with a sterling eagle.

In the final few holes, he had a few more birdie chances, but his ball lipped out. He finished with all pars and a 70, minus two. "I could have been minus five or six," he said walking off. But he could also have been plus five, losing his concentration. Instead, he redoubled his effort and showed true grit. He finished the tournament in a solid 17th place.

Its onto the English Boys, which tees off on Tuesday July 20.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dutch success

Sam is keeping his word. He left on Monday evening for the Netherlands to play the Riverwoods Junior Open. In the first round, he shoots a sterling par to place 14th. He takes advantages of the par fives, birdying one and eagling another. "I could have done better if it hadn't rained so hard over the final four holes," he says. But he sounds excited and happy on the phone. There are three rounds to go.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not enough

It is not enough. Although he is ranked sixth, the national federation decides to take the boy who is ranked seventh because he is a year younger. Sam is crushed.

This evening, I leave for work to Madrid.

When I arrive, I give him a call and ask how he feels.

“OK, I’m just going to have to get my revenge in the big tournaments this summer,” he says. “I’ll have to prove they made a mistake.

In the coming weeks, Sam will be playing at the Dutch International, the English Boys and the British Boys. We’ll see if he can keep his vow.