Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter Training

The thermometer has fallen to near zero. Some hardy souls continue to stroll the frigid fairways. I find it too difficult. Even Sam prefers to spend much of the winter training bulking up. He is "bulking" up with a terrific physical trainer Boris Lambert. Three times a week, he spends two hours in the gym.

Last season, Sam struggled in the long 36 hole final days favored by the most prestigious Belgian tournaments. He was fourth after three rounds in the national championship, then minus three in the first eight holes of the fourth round - before taking a quadruple bogey and falling back to finish with a disappointing 78. Physically, he was exhausted.

This year, he wants to add distance to his drives and to build up his endurance. After seeing these photos, I'm confident that he will succeed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

College Blues

Sam is finishing up his U.S. college applications. What a pain. In order to apply to UK universities, one fills in a simple, straightforward form and receives a simple, straightforward response a few weeks later. There are no SAT exams and only one recommendation. Get the right grades in school and you get into your UK college choice. Sam already has received a thumbs up from the strong athletic and academic Loughborough University.

How different in the U.S.. Students suffer through multiple entrance exams, must arrange for multiple recommendations, write multiple essays, and then waits to be accepted or rejected. Often, despite these numerous steps, the system seems cooked. Even at the most academically prestigious universities, the recipe for athletes to achieve acceptance is to be recruited. If I understand correctly, each golf coach is able to write letters for two candidates, and if their SATs are acceptable, they receive early entrance. Unfortunately, Sam has not managed to get the coach from my alma mater Yale or anywhere else to write that magical letter for him.

My brother, a Dartmouth alum, just told me a frightening story. He interviews prospective students. Recently, he gave the lowest possible rating to a an athlete-candidate, who answered all his questions with monotone single syllable answers. But the athlete was accepted anyhow. He wonders what chance his own son, not an athlete but a strong musician, will have when he applies in three years.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Award Dinner

There's no thanksgiving celebration in Belgium. It is just a regular work day.

But some friends choose to celebrate on the following Saturday. Instead, the Belgian Golf Federation decides to hold its award cocktail that evening. Sam receives an invite just two days before the event. He is, rightly, honored to be included. The evening is reserved only for players who have participated in the Belgian national team during the year. Sam qualified by participating in the Junior Quadrangular.

The evening is filled with champagne and trophies. Take a look here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Texas Voyage

Sam has been watching his friend Thomas Pieters play in Texas against the world's best amateurs in a tournament called The Spirit. Take a look. Some of Shooting for Tiger's characters including Alexis Thompson and Anders Kristaensen are in the field. Its a topflight tournament and shows Sam how close he has come to reaching his goals on the course. The Belgians finish 12th.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

American Training

Over the weekend, we debated the merits of playing golf at an American university. Many of the top Belgian junior golfers are now away playing full-time across the Atlantic. Four alone attend Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

Are they benefiting from the full-time training? The reviews back in Belgium are mixed. Sam’s coach Jean-Christian Lassagne says American golf coaches expect top results – and put an inordinate amount of pressure on students to achieve. “They say, ‘hey you hit the ball well, so you should score well,” he says. “But it is not always so simple.”

Sam’s sport psychologist, Emilee, who spent a year at Stetson University in Florida, said she missed having her Belgian-based teacher with her. “Many of us make the mistake in believing that the American coach can help us with our swing and other technical issues,” she recalls. “They cannot. You need to keep your old teacher.”
Bottom line: many Europeans seem to doubt whether four years spent in America playing golf at the university pays off in better players.

At the same time, the prospects that stay back in Europe treat water. After they become 18, and start attending continental universities, the Belgian golf federations stop subsidizing their training. The best prospects turn pro. But they struggle to make their mark. So the jury remains out.

For Sam, a native English speaker, the debate remains unresolved. Golf-wise, it would be best for him to attend an American university. But he wants to study as much as play, and he is targeting institutions with a good mixture of golf and academics. This weekend, he met with psychologist Emilee and his coach Lassagne to review the past season and prepare for the next one. He also finished a long paper on the Cold War for his history class and took the SATs.

If he scores well, he will consider applying to American universities. If he does not, he probably will end up attending a UK institution – where the golf may not be quite as good as in the U.S., but where he will be able, at minimum cost, to get a top-flight education.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ending the Season on a High Note

The 2009 golf season is over.

After four months of solid, almost non-stop tournament play, Sam competed over the weekend in his final event - a Grand Prix in the French resort of Le Touquet. It's a great tournament on a great links course. Famed architect Henry Colt designed the layout in 1931 and he created a challenge - a 7,000 yard monster.

Sam played well and I was delighted, after all my health problems, to caddy him. In the first round, the skies were blue and the wind calm. Sam started out with three bogeys and then drove his ball deep into the woods. Fortunately, he was able to pitch out and earned only a bogey. Then, on the ninth hole, the hardest on the course, he made it ack to even par by rolling a 225 yard three iron second shot to five feet, and draining the birdie putt.

The wind picked up on the back nine, but even so, Sam stayed sharp. He putted well and recovered even after the disappointment of seeing four putts lip out. His final 74, two over par, put him in fourth place, only two shots from the lead. "I should have been two under if my putts had gone in," he added.

The next day, players out in the morning enjoyed a nice autumn sunshine. When Sam teed off at 1 p.m., the skies had turned gray and the wind had begun to howl. The course was going to be a monster. Sam's playing partner was his 16-year old friend Thomas Detry, who had enjoyed a wonderful season, winning the Dutch Boys International and qualifying for the European Tour event, the KLM Open. Thomas had helped Sam navigate Royal St. Georges at the British Boys. But now he seemed tired of golf. "I had a lot of homework and too much golf over the summer," he complained. "I wish I wasn't here." From the start, Thomas failed concentrate.

In contrast, Sam still seemed to enjoy himself. He wanted to be out on the course and he showed it by trying. The long par three second hole had caused many players, unable to hold the green with their tee shot, to double or even triple bogey. Sam's tee shot rolled through the green, but he chipped close and parred. He again was even par going into the fourth hole Even though he was not as sharp as in the first round, he found himself even par going into the fourth hole. But his second shot, a three wood screecher, headed straight toward the green, only to plug into a trap. What should have been an eagle or even birdie turned into a bogey.

In addition to the blowing wind, rain began falling. Sam struggled and by the time he reached the 11th hole, he was five over par. His playing partner Thomas Detry was even worse, six over. But officials told them that all the scores were high and that they still had a chance. Thomas still did not seem to care. Sam rebounded and made several excellent pars. Several times, he needed three woods to reach the greens of par fours. By the 16th hole, the rain had turned into a true tempest. Thomas took a quintuple 9 and finished with a horrendous 87. Sam continued making pars, even threatening several times to gain birdies, and finished six over. Unfortunately, some of the scores earlier in the day were low and he ended up only fifth. He was disappointed. "I really wanted to win," he said.

And yet I could sense that he was pleased. He had proved to himself that he belonged with the best amateur players in Europe. He had played for the Belgian national team. He had enjoyed himself and the golf had helped him grow up. Now he has to concentrate on his studies and prepare for college. His goal remains, not to become a golf professional, but to enjoy golf and leverage it for a rich, varied and fulfilled life. I am proud.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What's Happened to Them?

Sam returned home last night from the Netherlands with a smile. He won his two singles matches both by two and one scores. His Belgian team finished second. He returned home only at 7 p.m. and had three hours of homework, leaving little time for basking in glory and chit-chatting.

As my son played, I watched over the weekend the exploits of some of my Shooting For Tiger characters. Alexis Thompson, the explosive 12-year old in the book, is growing up fast. I remember her with her painted face at the Canon Cup while I was researching my book. The picture that I took of her on the right appeals to me because she was then just a kid having fun.

At age 14, the home-schooled high school freshman from Florida shot 65 and 69 in the first two rounds to lead the Navistar LPGA tournament. Although she faltered on Sunday and finished 13th, her success shows once again how girls mature faster than boys on the golf course.

This precious maturity cuts two ways. The temptation mounts on teenagers to turn pro and cash in. But the danger of burn out a la Michelle Wie remains everpresent. Thompson and her father Scott seem to understand the dangers. They always told me that Alexis would finish high school and go to college. Will her success accelerate that schedule?

Another Shooting for Tiger character making headlines is Peter Uihlein. Over the summer, he won all four of his matches in helping lead the U.S. to victory over Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup. Uihlein was also quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur. When I watched Uihlein compete as a junior, I never doubted his talent, but often questioned his matured. Maybe he's finally growing up.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back on the Course

I finally made it back to the course - to caddy my daughter Julia.

Sam is away in Amsterdam playing for the Belgian national team. I'm still recuperating from my operation and cannot swing a club. But I enjoyed walking with my 10 year old daughter.

Julia never has been as excited as her older brother about athletics and golf. Sam was a natural. When Julia first swung a club, she seemed awkward. But she has persevered and is beginning to show real talent. She whacks a five iron about 120 yards. Her chipping, still weak, is improving. Best of all, she plays with giant smile on her face, displaying real pleasure when she hits a good shot.

When Sam leaves for college, I think I have found my new golf partner.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

College Deception

When I researched Shooting for Tiger, I was struck by the insular way in which American college coaches went about recruiting for their golf teams. They focused on AJGA tournaments in America and the small group of players who managed to play in the elite Invitational tournaments. I chronicled a season of this mating between coaches and top teen players.

Sam's experience shows just how difficult it is to break into this closed world. He played in Europe this past summer, not in the AJGA. When he wrote several dozen coaches expressing interest in attending their college, most did not even bother to answer his email. The few who did said their recruiting already was finished. Even though he is a late bloomer and a good student, it is becoming clear that no top American university will even look at him.

American universities say they want to become international and recruit around the globe. For the most part, however, they fail to live up to this goal. Sam looks set to attend university in the UK.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

National Team

Sam is delighted - he just has been chosen to represent Belgium in the upcoming Junior Quadrangular against Holland, Switzerland and Austria in Amsterdam on October 2-4. He gets to miss a day of school and has received a spiffy sweater with the Belgian national logo to wear. He also has to wear a tie and jacket for a gala dinner and prepare to give a speech. It sounds like a good experience.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back to School

With Sam out of the British Boys, we took some time for tourism. We visited the famed Canterbury Cathedral. We lounged on the stony beaches. And on the final day before returning to Brussels, we played together another stunning links called Royal Cinque Ports. Like Royal St. Georges, it also has held the Open and under a brilliant sunshine it was easy to see why as we moved out among the dunes and along the shimmering English Channel. We played with the wind the first nine holes and were lulled into believing the course was not too difficult until we hit into the wind on the back nine and I needed three shots to reach par fours. Even Sam required a three wood to reach a par four in regulation.

The rest of August was taken up with much regular work for me and more doctor appointments for me. Sam participated in more golf tournaments, playing well in a few (minus two and fourth highest amateur in a Belgian pro tournament) but poorly in others as he became worn down (missing the cut at the Total junior championship). Then he went back to school and began concentrating on his studies.

The season had confirmed Sam's talent - but left him a little hungry. He never had quite finished off what he began. He failed to finish in the top five in a major tournament. He always seemed to fade at the end. He never shot quite as low as he hoped. He gave himself many birdie opportunities, but all too often his putting let him down. But he had learned that he could play equal with the best golfers in Belgium - and the best juniors in all of Europe. He had kept his passion for the game and vowed to undergo a tough physical training regime in the upcoming year.

I underwent an operation on September 10 - this explains the long absence in blogging - and am only now getting back to normal.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Stunning Victory

Sam surprised me – he teed off in the first round on the famed Royal St. Georges course showing no signs of nerves. He parred the first few holes, while his opponent - an English lad named Jake Canning - struggled. Sam's Belgian friend, Thomas Detry, helped by caddying him for the first ten holes. Detry calmed his nerves and explained the course. By the time he left on the tenth hole, Sam was three holes up and cruising. Sam finished off on the fourteenth hole, winning four and two. "I'm hitting the ball well," Sam said afterward.

The next day, Sam confronted a more accomplished English opponent named Joseph Harper, who introduced himself as a future pro. The two teed off at 11:33 a.m. By the ninth hole, Sam was three shots down. But he persevered, bringing the match even by the 15th. On the 16th, a par three, Sam hit first and struck a perfect tee shot to within ten feet. His opponent put his ball even closer to the flag. Sam missed his birdie putt. Harper nailed his and went a stroke up. But on the next hole - a narrow, monstrous long par four, Joseph pushed his drive into the fescue, while Sam parred to tie. On the 18th, both boys bogeyed and the match went into a sudden death playoff, starting on hole one.

Sam should have won on the first extra hole. He missed a short three footer for birdie and looked ready to crumble under the pressure. One poor shot, one poor hole and the match would be over. Instead, both boys picked up their level of play and parred hole after hole - until the par five seventh. Sam split the fairway with his drive and whacked a three wood to the green. His eagle putt came close to the green. His opponent, meanwhile, struggled and reached the green only in four shots. Before Sam needed to putt for his birdie, he conceded the match and walked off, close to tears. Sam seemed too stunned to celebrate. It was 5 p.m.. The five and a half hour long, 25 hole victory was a tournament record. I have to admit that I never thought my son would show such character. The match proved so exciting that even his younger sister Julia and younger brother Ben watched almost the entire way.

Unfortunately, Sam only had a half hour to recuperate before his third round match. His opponent Nick Newbold had a full three hours to prepare. Throughout the year, Sam had difficulty holding up through two full rounds a day. Now he was being asked to play two and a half rounds in the space of eight hours. Newbold started off quick and birdied four of the first seven holes, to go five up at the turn. Sam's shoulders slumped. He was out of the match. As the sun set over the sea and Sam crumbled, the two youngsters were the final two players out on the course.

The denouement was unfortunate. Even if Sam could have played his third round on the next day, Newbold was a formidable opponent who might have beaten him. But it was never a true match. Still, Sam came away with a smile. I never had thought Sam would be a great match player - he's too nice. When he played tennis, he hated the idea of combat on the courts. Yet maybe he is tougher than I imagined. He had made it to the third round of the most prestigious boy's golf tournament in Europe. He had played a British Open course in the shadow of Tiger Woods - and tamed the venerable links.

Monday, August 10, 2009

British Boys

After being given a painkiller and antibiotics, I recovered quickly. I even played a round with Sam on the weekend at our local course. On Saturday as we were finishing, I received a call from the Royal & Ancient: Sam had received a spot in the British Boys, the most prestigious junior golf tournament in Europe. If he wanted to play, he had to be Monday evening across the English Channel at the famed Royal St. Georges golf course.

I had made a mistake when putting in Sam's initial application to play. I marked his handicap at 1.7 and believed that he could lower it later, if he played well. Since he did play well, his handicap fell to 0.6. But the Royal & Ancient, unlike other golf federations, does not allow any change after the initial application. So Sam was put as umber 29 on the waiting list and figured he had no chance to get in.

Now we had only two days to prepare. Sam spent much of the time watching YouTube clips of Tiger Woods and others playing the British Open at Royal St. Georges in 2003. As he saw Tiger and the other famous pros struggle to save pars on the monster links course, he became more and more excited.

I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for noon on Monday so we could only leave in the afternoon. The doctor was reassuring - surgery would cure me, he insisted, and there was no danger to travel - so the entire family took off only about 2 p.m. Three hours later, the five of us were standing on the top of magnificent dunes overlooking the English Channel. The setting resembled a wild moonscape, with mounds rising and falling in seeming random order.

Tournament organizers forbid a practice round, so we could only walk the course. The British Boys is a match play event. The winner must take nine straight matches. Europe's best golfers all were assembled, including the entire strong French and Italian national teams. We run into the Italian Matteo Manassero, the 16-year old who finished 13th in the British Open at Turnberry, in the pro shop where he is buying a chocolate bar. Earlier in the day, he had easily won his opening match against Belgian Julien Richelle.

Sam's first round encounter is scheduled for the following morning. Without a practice round and intimidated, I fear he has little chance to succeed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Competing Against the Pros

It is called the Alps Tour and it is the European equivalent of the U.S.'s Nationwide Tour, a competitive but minor professional tour. The Alps Tour actually does not just play in the mountains and this week it came to Belgium, specifically to a course just north of Antwerp called

Sam had to play a qualifier to get into the main draw. He shot an excellent 73, tying for the second highest qualifying score.

In the main tournament, Sam was paired with two touring pros, an Austrian and a Belgian. The Austrian had earned less than 10,000 euros for the entire year. When the group reached the fifth hole, Sam was discouraged to hear the pros complain about how tired the were. "They didn't seem to be having fun," he said afterward.

The upside of this dispiriting revelation was how it convinced Sam that studies, not golf, should come first.

Another factor complicated Sam's play: my own illness. I drove him to play in the first round. I felt fine when we left Brussels. But by the time we reached the course in Antwerp, only a 45 minute drive away, I felt a terrible pain in my side. I had to be taken away in an ambulance to a nearby hospital. I thought I had kidney stones. But it turned out to be a tumor in my right kidney. When Sam came to see me after his round, we didn't talk much about golf.

Not surprisingly, he didn't make the cut.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

National Junior Championship

This week, Sam competed in the Belgian national championship for juniors for the first time. Before, he was unable to compete because he did not have Belgian citizenship. So he had something to prove. Plus, the championship was played on one of his favorite courses in Belgium, Royal Hainaut, a classic designed and built in the 1930s by the famed golf architect Tom Simpson. The tournament was played over four days - and the sun was strong and welcoming.

Even so, the week did not work out as planned. Sam played regularly, shooting 75, 76, 74 and 75. He finished eighth. “I hit the ball well, but just could not putt,” he complained afterward, after the final round in which he counted half a dozen missed birdie putts. On the positive side, he only scored only a few bogeys and one double or triple bogey during the entire week.

Next up is qualifying for a real pro tournament.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


What a wonderful week in the birthplace of golf.

Ok, it rained much of the first two days. Ok, the food was mediocre. But the Ladybank Golf Course, site of the Scottish Boys tournament proved a provocative potion of elegant holes meandering through a gentle forest and framed by wild heather.

Sam was lucky and played his first round in the early morning sunshine. He shot a more than respectable 75. His buddy Dewi played in the afternoon braving a storm and struggled, ending up failing to make the cut. Sam improved the next day to a 73 and looked well positioned to challenge for the honors in the final day of 36 holes.

Instead, Sam stumbled. I went to play myself with Dewi at a local links course and left him to his own. When we returned, we saw the bad news – an 81, putting him out of contention. This included a triple bogey on the 18th. “I lost my concentration a bit,” he admitted afterward. In the fourth round, he fought back shooting a 74. But it was too late and he finished a disappointing 30th.

We took the time to visit Scottish universities. Sam fell in love with St. Andrews. The “Old Course” shined under a brilliant sunshine. I always knew the golf facilities were superb. What surprised me was how until recently the university offered few opportunities to talented golfers to pursue their passion. Golf was considered a mere hobby and top-ranked amateurs not encouraged to enroll. This is now changing – there’s a neat training facility and promising golfers are offered scholarships to play in elite amateur tournaments.

The University itself is impressive, more historic and more cosmopolitan than I could ever have imagined. A Chinese student gave us a tour. The campus is filled with medieval and modern buildings. Since I am beginning to fear that Sam is not quite good enough a golfer to be recruited in the United States, this looks like a good option. He loves the campus. Plus, its good academically in the subject he wants to study – geography. Best of all, the tuition is free for European Union citizens. Yes, get that – free!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Open

We’ve just arrived in Scotland. I took Sam and a golfer-friend of his Dewi.

On arrival at Prestwick Airport, we headed straight to the British Open. It was the final day of the competition. The two boys, still 16, received free entries.

“Wow – this is enormous,” Dewi kept repeating as he watched star after star pass. Both boys judged the Turnberry links “mythical.” They focused on watching their heroes, first a 16-year old Italian Matteo Manassero, who had played with Sam at the French Boys tournament earlier in the spring . The mere presence of one of their own age group excited them – and so did Manassero's play. The young Italian finished 13th.

The next object of focus for the youngsters was Lee Westwood, the talented English golfer who always sees to fail to quite live up to his abilities. We watched as Westwood drove into the deep rough at hole 10, and stood next to him as he slashed the ball out left of the green. It was sunny but not hot, but Westwood seemed nervous and looked to be sweating. Sure enough, he imploded on the coming holes.

As with the rest of the world, we next turned to Tom Watson, the 59-year old miracle man. He played the smartest golf of the day. While Westwood and the others struck straight at the flag on the par three 16th, only to find their ball roll off the green into a bunker, Watson rolled his ball up close to the pin. He then proceeded to make a magnificent birdie on the 17th.

Everyone knows what happened next . As we watched behind the 18th tee, Watson addressed his ball and said, 'here we go,' smashing a perfect drive. Unfortunately, everyone knows what happened next - Watson's disastrous bogey on the 18th and playoff loss. Even the two boys were moved by the tragic denouement. But the real reason for their trip to Scotland was to play in the Scottish Boys at Ladybank near St. Andrews. Their first practice round was scheduled for early the next morning.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Sam spent the past week in Luxembourg with friends competing in the Luxembourg International. Lilliputan Luxembourg may not hold the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, but it is an “international” with a strong field from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. In previous “internationals,” Sam never has made the cut. His goal is to break that barrier.

Tournament organizers have shaved the greens and the course contains multiple out of bounds areas. Most of Sam’s friends bomb out in the first round, shooting well over 80. But Sam keeps his concentration and shoots an excellent three over par. The next day is less good, nine over, but still sufficient to make the cut.

I drive to Luxembourg on the Friday night after work. Most of Sam's friends have returned home. I caddy again for him. The course, carved out of hilly farmland, is as treacherous as Sam warned. The first hole is a dogleg par four, with a steep descent of a second shot to the green. The flag is tucked behind a trap. Instead of playing it safe, Sam goes at the flag and leaves himself with a short birdie putt, which he makes. He birdies the next par five. On another hole, he chips in. By the 12th hole, he is four under.

Disaster has to strike. Out of bounds lurk on each hole and sure enough Sam drives on the 13th into the woods. But he recovers with his second ball and limits the fallout to a double bogey. Although he bogies the next hole, he birdies a par five. Despite a lip out on the 17th hole for a bogey, he storms back with a terrific nine iron over water and just misses the birdie putt on the 18th.

He finishes with 72, one under par and one of the best rounds of the entire field. He ends up 19th in the tournament, the third highest Belgian - and receives a dose of confidence going into next week's Dutch International, one of the five most important junior tournaments of the year in Europe.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Choosing a College

The family has begun to disperse. My 10-year old Julia with my father has flown to America to go to camp there. I just put my wife and 8-year old Benjamin onto a plane for Finland, where he is attending camp.

We then travelled to the UK. Sam went to see Wimbledon. While he couldn’t get a ticket for central court, he did manage to buy one for the grounds and he saw under 18s compete in the junior event. This impressed Sam. Before picking up golf, he loved tennis and showed real talent. He just disliked the “boxing” aspect of the sport and felt too much pressure to pummel his opponent. So he turned to golf. At Wimbledon, he was amazed to see kids his own age smash forehands and backhands. He was also surprised to see one of his old Belgian adversaries, Arthur de Greef, competing. “Impressive,” he said afterward. Later in the week, he picked up a racquet for the first time in several years and enjoyed rallying with me.

The main reason for the trip across the English Channel was to show Oxford and Cambridge to Sam. His college hunt is intensifying. He must choose between staying in Europe, probably in England or Scotland, or going to the United States.

It’s a tough choice. He would prefer the U.S.. But as a founding member of the Yale Club of Belgium, I know that not a single applicant from here has gotten into Yale in the past decade. The SATs represent a Mount Everest for European-schooled children not used to taking multiple choice tests. Sam struggled on the English part. Plus, is his golf good enough? For Yale, certainly. But for a top golf school like Duke? That’s not so sure. And finally, American schools cost $50,000 a year.

In contrast, European universities are close to free (Scottish universities charge no tuition). If Sam cannot attend a top-flight American institution, this might be a better choice. Oxford and Cambridge both hold open days at the beginning of July. Both put on impressive shows. At a UK university, students apply in one specific course. Sam still is not sure what he wants to specialize in, so he’s looking at a generalist course in geography, which embraces everything from environmental science and geology to the way to design housing projects in order to reduce crime. Sam was fascinated to hear geography professors describe their course.

We met with the Oxford Golf captain, an impressive, articulate young man who spoke with enthusiasm about the club’s adventures playing the best courses in the UK, including all the British Open course. But Sam was not convinced. The captain played only to a four handicap and practiced only once a week. With the heavy course load at Oxford, he didn’t have more time for the sport. “This is social golf,” Sam said afterward.

In a couple of weeks time, we will travel to Scotland and look at St. Andrews and Edinburgh. Both offer excellent courses in geography. Sam hopes the golf will be more serious.

Friday, July 3, 2009

National Championship

Three days after the King’s Prize, Sam competed in the Belgian national championship. This is the single biggest Belgian tournament of the year, the Belgian equivalent of the U.S. Amateur that brings together all the country’s best amateurs of all ages. It was played on a challenging, hilly course near the Waterloo battlefield called Empereur after Napoleon. These days, Waterloo is a rich suburb of Brussels surrounded by rich farmland. The anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat to Wellington just had taken place.

Sam started will playing the first round in one over par. The second round, he improved to one under par, finishing with two beautiful birdies. The third and final day again was 36 holes. Sam left at 6 a.m. and the day rose bright and hot. My dad ad I rejoined him after the morning 18 holes– he looked exhausted, but happy, having shot one over par and leaving him fourth before the final round.

During lunch, he asked me to caddy. “I’m so tired,” he acknowledged. If he asked me to help, I knew he was genuinely fatigued.

Even so, he shot off like a rocket, birdying the first hole. On the third, a par three, his ball nestled next to the hole, threatening to fall for his first ever hole in one. He dropped a long putt on the fourth, and on the fifth struck a pure shot from a fairway bunker to within five feet, only to see his putt lip out.

Then the rocket began to lose altitude. A sloppy drive on the ninth hotel led to a double bogey. And then true disaster – a ball out of bounds on the 12th, a second drive into a fairway bunker and a disastrous quadruple bogey. He straggled in with a six over par 78 – and finished 11th. For a 16 year old, who started playing serious golf only three years ago, that was an accomplishment. Sam left the course with a smile.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Missed Opportunity

Sam finished his exams by the third week of June and launched full time into his golf season. Early results have been promising. In the King’s Prize, he shot near par for the first two rounds. The final day is 36 holes so he had left home with friends at 6 a.m. My dad, Julia and Ben and I went to watch him in the afternoon.

The King’s Prize is held on one of Belgium’s six royal golf courses each year, layouts sponsored or approved by the country’s 20th century golf-loving king Leopold. This year, the site was Royal Latem, near Ghent, which was celebrating its 100th birthday.

The course is a short, wooded affair with many blind shots over sandy mounds. Before the final round, Sam stood ninth out of more than 100 entrants at three over par for the tournament. He struck the ball well and had numerous birdie opportunities. Through the 16th hole, he was even par on the round. Then on the 17th, the course’s hardest hole, he hit a ball far left, struggled to recover, and ended up with a double bogey. On the final hole, his drive veered right but he hit a splendid iron that nipped the top of the green’s false front before falling back. He chipped with aggression, rolling the ball four feet beyond the hole.

Then he three putt – for a final double bogey.

The four over par 76 put him 13th, a good, encouraging overall result, even if the final taste seemed bitter. With a 72, he could have made the top ten. Sam left the course, his face dripping in sweat and sadness.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Minus One

Sam studied all Sunday, pouring over Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing and Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome in advance of an English exam.

For a break, around 5:30 in the afternoon, we played 12 holes. The sun peeked out of the clouds and sent a deep orange, rainbow-color over the fairways. Without stress, Sam shot minus one. As we walked down the fairways, we discussed the "merry war" of Shakespeare's lovers Benedick and Beatrice.

Let's hope he does as well in the classroom as on the golf course.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Final Exams

Sam wanted to play in a tournament this weekend in France. Instead he decided to stay home and study. He took his SATs on Saturday. We played a few holes to relax. Then it was back to the books. His final exams are coming up this week. He will not play again competitively until the final week in June.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Weekend in the Netherlands

After his mediocre start of the season, Sam did not expect to be chosen for the Belgian national team. Surprisingly, however, he was picked to travel to the Netherlands with the team to practice for the upcoming European Team Championships.

Ten boys participated in this weekend training session. Only six will end up playing. Sam still thinks he will be will not make the final cut but is now confident he will be picked next year after many of the top players leave for college. He returned with a smile. The team stayed in a swish Hilton Hotel in Utrecht and the course was superb.

“I’m beginning to feel like I belong,” he says.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Author Frustrations

Book promotion feels frustrating these days. I worked almost two years to complete Shooting For Tiger and a week in New York and Philadelphia has showed me how much of a struggle it will be to sell it. Yes, I appeared on television and radio shows. Yes, I met with my publishers and came up with a plan for sparking additional coverage and excerpts. Yes, I sat in front of the pro shop at the Upper Montclair Country Club during the LPGA tournament last weekend and sold a total of 25 books.

My first three books received extensive reviews in publications ranging The Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal. This time, almost no reviewers have responded. Why? I’m not quite sure. Certainly, newspapers are struggling. Perhaps books on a sports theme gain less traction than ones on food and wine. Whatever the reason, it feels like an uphill struggle to get a full hearing.

When I took a book leave, I remember some friends asking whether I was crazy. Why put my full-time journalism job at Dow Jones in jeopardy for a book project which paid little and which offered little chance of true commercial success? The answer was that I needed a break and saw this book as a journey with my family.

And it has been a great journey. We traveled two months together throughout the United States, visiting parts of my homeland that I never have thought I would see – Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio – and much, much more. I was paid to explore a subject close to my heart – parenting. I also had the freedom and time to play many rounds of golf on terrific golf courses with my son.

Now my children have a book to treasure for the rest of their lives. Even if I sell no copies and never make another cent on this project, I feel blessed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Success Without Dad

Maybe it is best to stay far away from Sam. While I am in the United States promoting the gook , he entered a tournament for under 18s at a diabolical Belgian golf course near Leuven called Winge. I say diabolical because, on several holes, it slices through woods offers blind shots or plays at near 90-degree vertical to narrow greens. It is easy to lose balls and take triple or quadruple bogeys.

In the first round, Sam told me afterward how he found his touch to shoot a two-over-par 74 –the best score of the day of all age groups. In the second day, he is leading by two strokes until the 17th hole – perhaps the trickiest, worst-designed on the entire course. He drives into the woods, pitches out, makes it to the green in three – and then, nervous, three putts. He finishes with a 76.

The tournament goes into a playoff. His opponent is Matthias Bosmans, one year old and full-time student at a sports academy in Flanders. Bosmans is member of Winge and a large crowd is cheering him. But he, too, seems nervous, missing a five footer on the 18th hole.
On the first extra hole, Sam leaves a birdie putt inches short. On the second, he finds himself squeezed behind a tree and must hit to the open part of the green. Bosmans hits close – and sinks the birdie putt for victory.

But when I return from the States, Sam says he still feels good about himself and his game.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Book Tour Thing

Most authors tell you they hate book tours, going from interview to interview, repeating the same old story. But this tour in NY has been fun. I've had a chance to visit friends at the Wall Street Journal and they just came out with a nice interview.

And here's a great new interview with an Orlando radio station:

Danger signs for parents

Today, I am off to Philadelphia to do yet more interviews. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Promoting The Book

On the plane to New York, I write Sam and express my concerns that I am putting too much pressure on him. At the same time, I tell him that I want to support hi own ambitions and make sure he receives the opportunities to achieve them.

I tell him that I am proud of the man you have become and that has nothing to do with golf. I was thrilled to see your good report card from school and really believe you are on the right track in life.

Golf must remain first and foremost a game to have fun.

I’m coming to the States to promote the book. I have been appearing on sport radio talk shows across the country and now am scheduled to participate in a few television shows and do a book signing at the Sybase LPGA event in New Jersey next weekend.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sam Struggles - And So Does Dad

Sam played today in the AFG Grand Prix. If he scored well, he would be picked for the Belgian national team. At the upcoming European team championships The setting was a hilly golf course called Falnuee. It runs only about 6000 yards, but has narrow, forest-lined fairways and requires many second shots to hilltop greens.

Perhaps the pressure was too much. Or perhaps the round just exemplified the vagaries of the game. Sam was cruising along until the seventh hole, a par five, when he hit a magnificent drive almost 300 yards. He had only a three wood to the green. But he sliced two shots out of bounds and ended up with a catastrophic nine.

To his credit, he fought back and hit a number of sparkling shots during the rest of the round.

But four makeable birdie putts lipped out and he ended up nine over, missing the cut by two

Afterward, he was visibly disappointed and so was I for him. I began to fear that I had moved from encouraging to pushing. By trying to help you figure out an ambitious golf program and encouraging him to be recruited, have I upped the pressure on him too much?

I am going to step back.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More Exceprts

The Global Post, a cool new internet news service based, in Boston, has published a series of three excerpts of the book, along with my photos. The combination looks great.
Part One is a general introduction.
Part Two tells the story of golf academies.
Part Three recounts the rise of Korean junior golfers.

Hopefully, more excerpts soon will come.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Junior Junior Golf

This time, it was eight-year-old Ben and ten-year old Julia’s chance to perform. The Belgian golf federation has a wonderful series of tournaments for preteens called the Scapa Tour. The kids play nine shortened holes, and the atmosphere is more of pleasure than competition.

This is Ben and Julia’s second year playing the Scapa. Neither is as avid a golfer as their older brother. They don’t like to practice and prefer other sports or activities. Julia, in particular, was scared about playing in a golf tournament. But they can hit the ball and surprisingly adored the Scapa events. They played in one tournament near Antwerp – and then on the seaside at a fabulous links course just outside of Ostend.

This year’s first event is near Waterloo at a hilly layout called Empereur set in verdant farmland. Like in any high-level golf tournament, starters announce the players. On the first hole, a 100-yard par three, Ben stepped up and whacked a five iron right near the hole. For a split second, it seemed to be going in. “Almost champagne, Benjamin,” said a stunned starter from the Belgian federation. Ben proceeded to three putt. Throughout the rest of his round, he showed the same tendency to hit a magnificent shot, followed by several imprecise strokes. He finished with four points (one point for a bogey, two for a par, three for a birdie), far down in the competition for eight year olds.

Julia shares the same erratic tendencies as her brother. She can hit a bal nicely, but struggles close to the greens. After a slow start, she surprises herself on the ninth hole by sinking a long putt (it lingered on the lip before falling in) and responded with a Tiger-style fist-pumping celebration. Like her younger brother, she also finished with four points and well down the standings.

But her smile coming off the ninth green was champion-sized. “I had a great time,” she beamed. “Me too,” added brother Ben.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Publication Approaches

The Wall Street Journal today published an excerpt of the book about Vicky Hurst. It looks great and my hopes are rising that Shooting for Tiger will be a success.

The official publication date is on May 4. Despite the Journal success, I know from previous experience as the author of three books that publishing is a bit of a crap shoot. Why one book sells and another does not remains a mystery . Success requires talent, but also luck. My previous works received good reviews in prestigious publications including the Journal, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker. Yet they sold modestly.

I keep my expectations in check. After the Journal article appears, I see the book gets a sales bump, but then quickly falls back in the rankings to around 9,000.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

National Champions

After a nine hour drive home, Sam is playing in the under 18 Belgian Interclubs with his club team called Sept Fontaines. He is standing on the far left here with his teammates. I am working and have no time to accompany him. The team coach calls the shots.

The competition takes place over four days. Sam is the number one player for his team. After a first day of stroke play, he tees off against the third highest rated under 18 (and fellow competitor at the French Boys) Julien Richelle. Sam falls six down after ten holes before storming back with three consecutive birdies. But it is not enough. The Sept Fontaines team wins anyhow.

In the next round, Sam faces the single highest rated under 18 Belgian golfer Pierre Alexi Rolland, who not only made the cut at the French Boys, but almost made the cut at a European tour event. “He didn’t make a single mistake,” Sam says after falling four and three.

But his team wins yet again and finds itself in the finals. This time, Sam plays well and crushes his opponent five and three. Sept Fontaines is the Belgian national champion.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Flying By Yourself

It’s one of the hardest moments for a parent – letting go of your children and letting them fly by themselves. Sam went with the Belgian national team to compete at the French Boys International. He hesitated. He doesn’t know many of them and wondered whether he could measure up. I wondered about letting him travel by himself, and face the pressure of an international tournament, and the pressure of being alone.

The results were mixed. After playing with Belgium’s best, Sam felt he could measure up to them and felt more accepted as an equal by them. But he also felt outgunned in this tournament open only the best 120 under 18 players in Europe held at a tough course just outside of Toulouse.

The first day opened bright and sunny. Scores were low. At around 12:30, the win started blowing. By the time Sam teed off, he said the gusts were almost knocking him off his feet. He found it difficult to control his balls. Even so, he said he played well, until the 17th hole, when he hit what he thought was a good shot, only to see it bounce on the top of the green and over a near cliff out of bounds. He ended up taking a triple bogey and a disastrous 83.

The next day, the wind again was blowing and it was raining. He struggled with an 81.

Only two of the seven Belgians made the cut. Many of the others also struggled and shot in the 80s.

“It was a good learning experience,” Sam said afterward. “Certainly not a success, but not a total failure, either.

For a worried Dad, it also represents a mixed result. Sam learned travelling and playing with his peers than with his parents. But he still struggled to believe that he can compete against the best.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Witnessing A 65

I am beginning to think the golf has become too serious. The game should be fun. It should not be the setting for family disputes.

Once he cools down, Sam talks through his disappointment with his first round. He has made the cut but is in the group with the highest scores to tee off on the second day of the competition. Along with him is the playing professional Guillaume Watremez who had shot an 81 in the first round.

Sam tees off at 9 a.m. Since I have to take him to the course, we make a deal: I will try to caddy him one more time. Before he shoots, he will explain the shot he wants to hit and then I will agree. We go over the plan for the round. This time, he will not drive with a two iron on the short par four eighth hole. This time, he says he must redouble his effort after a bogey and refuse to “bleed” for several holes. His teacher tells him it is OK to show anger after a poor shot – but for five seconds. After getting it out of his system, he needs to move on.

Sam and I have agreed on a plan: before each shot, he will tell me what he envisages and I will agree or disagree. Once we are in unison, he will execute. The system works for seven holes. Then on the diabolic eight, he slices his drive right. We agree on the line for his pitching wedge. But it goes left into a greenside bunker and he blames me for the choice of direction. He ends up bogeying the hole.

As we walk to the next hole, we agree on the need to stop the “bleeding” and play a conservative, par hole. He attempts to comply with these instructions, but misses a two feet par putt. By now he is steaming and refusing to speak to me. I back off and leave him alone. He bogeys yet another hole.

But then he pulls himself back from the brink and sinks a five foot par putt on the next hole. On the back nine’s first par five, he makes a nice birdie. His drives are now landing straight. On the next par five, he finds himself next to the green after only two beautiful shots. He proceeds to chip in for an eagle.

Suddenly a smile emerges on his face. He is only two over par. He plays the final holes in one over par, but hitting the ball well. He leaves the course satisfied with a three over par 75, acknowledging that if he hadn’t lost his temper in the middle of the round he could of – indeed should have – been under par for the day.

Guillaume Watramez, the pro in his playing group, arrived just before the 9 a.m. tee off time. He looked half asleep as he snap hooked his drive on the first hole and took a bogey. But then he began to wake up and followed with three birdies in the next four holes. After eight holes, he is four under par.

“How could you shoot 81 yesterday?,” I asked.

“I came back at 4 a.m. from Portugal,” he says. “I should have scratched, but had already paid the entrance fee and thought, what the hell.”

Watremez continues hitting laser like irons at each flag and sinking every putt within 10 feet. He finishes with a seven-under-par 65. Sam watches him with amazement. Afterward, Watremez tells him he has to learn “to accept bad shots and move on.” Sam nods in agreement. He has learned a lot in this round and feels that he has a chance in the upcoming French Boys International.

His dad will not be taking him to that tournament. The Belgian National Federation has offered to accompany him. I am delighted. Caddying for him was not a recipe for success.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Caddying For a Son

Sam allowed me this weekend to caddy for him.

In most junior golf tournaments, parents are not allowed to carry their children’s bag or offer them advice on the course. Indeed, at most junior tournaments, even those here in Belgium, no caddies are allowed. Tournament organizers fear that parents would put too much pressure on the players. If some children have caddies and some do not, its unfair. If parents caddy, the danger of emotions exploding on the course rise to an unacceptable level.

But this weekend’s tournament is a men’s professional event: the Belgian PGA. The country’s touring pros, many on the minor league European Alps tour, are participating, playing for money. The country’s best amateurs, juniors and adults, are also playing. Anybody, including parents, are allowed to caddy.

After Sam’s disastrous collapse the week before, he realizes that somebody giving him advice, could help calm his stress and help him avoid making strategic and tactical blunders. But he is skeptical that this person could be his father. “You’ll just get me pissed off,” he warns. Even so, he is ready to attempt the experiment.

This weekend’s tournament is taking place north of Brussels on a flat Flemish course called Kampenhout. It is a new course, 20 years ago, carved from an aristocratic estate (complete with a classic country palace) and open farmland. The course has few true dangerous zones and rewards good play with good scores.

For the first round, I want to avoid overloading Sam with too much advice. After a straightforward par, I watch in silence on the second hole as he prepares to hit a sand shot over a bunker toward a flag instead of blasting out to the safe far side of the green. His shot flies over the green and he needs two shots to get back to the green before taking a double bogey.

After this catastrophe, he settles down and pars the next five holes. On the eighth hole, a short par four, he decides o drive with a two iron while his playing partners drive. He smashes the ball, only to end up plugged in a fairway bunker. His partners mishit their drivers but still end up with short shots to the green.

“Its not fair,” he complains.

He ends up with another double bogey, cursing his fate rather than realizing he has chosen the wrong club. Suddenly his concentration evaporates and he bogeys the next five holes in a row, recovering only with a birdie on the 14th and settling down to par the remaining holes and finishing with a disappointing 80.

As his play deteriorates, he closes in on himself and refuses to communicate with his father “caddy.”

“You just make it worse, Dad,” he says. “I really don’t want you to caddy for me.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last Minute Collapse

The first tournament of the season is this weekend. It is being held in Flanders near the Dutch and German borders at an inland gem of a park course called Houthalen. Almost all of Belgium’s best amateurs have signed up.

Throughout the week, the Federation warned that it might have to cancel due to poor weather and playing conditions. But the sun came out bright and beautiful and Sam teed off at 11 a.m. After five holes, he was two under. His shots then began floating off target and he ended up hitting only eight greens in regulation. But his chipping was superb and he ended with a two over par 74, putting him in fourth place, four shots behind the leader.

For the second and final round, he blasted off and reached three under par after eight holes. This put him one shot off the lead. Then, he collapsed. On the par three 12th hole, his tee shot floated right and landed behind a tree. He faced a tough shot over a bunker to the top part of the green near the flag or an easier shot to the green’s far end, a position from which he feared three putting.

After much hesitation, he chose to go over the bunker.

“I didn’t believe in the shot,” he said afterward.

Sure enough, his ball plopped into the sand and he took two shots to get out. He finished the hole with a triple bogey six. Golf is a game that allows no mental lapses and the penalty was severe: his hopes of winning the tournament suddenly had evaporated. Unable to restore his balance, Sam caromed to a nine over par 81 and a 20th place finish.

Back at home, he gave a hole by hole description of his collapse. “I just lost it,” he admitted.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Good News From France

Sam just got some great news: he made the field for the upcoming French International Boys Championship held over Easter starting April 9 in Toulouse.

The invitations go out only to the top 100 players, judged by the lowest handicap. Entries poured in from all over the continent. Sam’s 1.1 handicap put him in 97th place. When he applied, he thought he had little chance to be accepted. Now he’s looking forward to testing himself against Europe’s best.

Sam has been practicing hard over the winter. During school holidays in October and February, he trained with the French-speaking Belgian team in Biarritz. In December, he travelled to Florida to participate in the Dixie Amateur, one of the most prestigious men’s amateur events in America. I was surprised that he was invited. Sam turned out to be one of the youngest players in the field, which was packed with characters from the book, including Peter Uihlein and Mu Hu.

Unfortunately, I could not attend. But Sam told me that the Dixie course ran well over 7,200 yards and that he started out in awe of his fellow players, who had several inches and pounds on him and hit the ball further, reaching 600 yard par fives in two shots, while it took him a drive, fairway wood and a pitch.

In the first round, Sam teed of at 7 a.m., meaning he needed is first round was catastrophic – an 81. He slept poorly the night before and felt overwhelmed. My dad took him the second day for a more reasonable mid-morning tee time and he blossomed, finishing with a sparkling even par 72 and a birdie on the par five finishing hole where he pitched almost in for an eagle.

The leader and eventual champion, Scotland’s Gavin Dear, shot 62. Sam still has a way to go.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Par Three Fun

Actually, the weather turned out to be nice this weekend. I played today with my eight-year old son Benjamin and he wowed me. We took on only the par three Parc course at our club and he scored 40. The little guy can drive the ball more than 120 yards and he often reached the hole on his first shot. Sam taught him how to chip, with his two feet together and a short, efficient stroke. He calls it “Sam’s technique.”

Pretty soon Ben will be able to go on the championship course.

While I tackled the par three course, Sam took on club champion in a match play. He was minus three after thirteen holes (they only played 13 holes) – and won

Friday, March 13, 2009

Where is Spring?

Its starting to look and feel like spring. Sun peeks through the grey winter clouds. Temperatures rise to the mid 50s. Yet the Belgian national golf authorities have just canceled the first big national tournament of the year, the National Foursomes. They say the course is in too bad shape.

Sam is disappointed. You get revved up for the season opening like a flower ready to bloom, only you just don’t get to come out of the bulb when you expect. The next tournament is in a week and the organizers are warning that it too may be canceled.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Introducing Shooting For Tiger

The 2009 golf season is about to tee off.

My book Shooting For Tiger: How an Obsessed Generation is Transforming a Country Club Sport will be published in two months. My teenage son Samuel inspired the project. He surprised me by becoming a passionate golfer.

When I plunged into the research about the passionate teens aiming to be next Tiger Woods, Samuel was only 14 years old. He was a nine handicapper, ambitious to be sure, but just starting out on his fairway journey.

Today, Samuel just has turned 16, a 1.1 handicapper, and ranked number 17 of all ages in Belgium. He played last December in the prestigious Dixie Amateur in Florida (where the above photo was snapped), where he failed to make the cut even though he shot 72 in his second round and learned how far he has come as a golfer - and how far he still needs to go.

My book research represented a great break from my day job and my adopted home of Belgium. Like the characters in my book, Samuel, a high school junior, is counting on this upcoming junior golf season to attract college coaches. His goals for the season are straightforward: rise to the top three for his age in Belgium, represent Belgium in the July European team championship, and play in the British boys in mid August, which is taking place on the British Open course Royal St. Georges.

I hope you will follow him (and me, the chauffeur and writer) along on his journey.

I’ll also be writing about my adventures in launching my book and the progress of my characters during the 2009 season. To be completely honest, I’ll be writing about anything about teenage sports and life that hits my mind.