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.