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.