Monday, March 22, 2010

An Encouraging Start

Sam returned home at 3:30 a.m. this morning - not too tired. By 7:45 a.m., he was off to school.

He finished eighth in the Dinard Grand Prix, only a single shot out of the top five and an honorable showing for the first tournament of the year. In the second round, he was one under par going into the 16th hole, where he double-bogeyed. He also double bogeyed the 17th, hitting a ball out of bounds on a short par three. He finished with a three over par 71.

For the two rounds, he shot seven over and all seven over came on these two holes. If he had held his concentration, he could have finished easily in the top five. His friend Cedric van Wassenove shot a second round 65. "He never gets nervous," said an admiring Sam.

But there were many positives. He hit the ball "terrifically." His putting improved in the second round. "My stroke is good, but the fast greens scared me." The weather was springlike perfect in the second round and he should now be able to practice regularly after the long winter.

"It was an encouraging start," he concluded.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Season Opening

Sam is away this weekend in Brittany with the Belgian national team at the opening tournament of the season. It's in Dinard, at one of the oldest courses in Europe, a links masterpiece that opened in 1887 that touts itself boasting "gorses and brooms, moors and dunes, cliffs and strands." Over the phone, Sam tells me it is gorgeous, just "gorgeous - one of the best I have ever played." This is quite an endorsement from a 17 year old who has competed at British Open courses such as Royal St. Georges.

The event is a two round Grand Prix, open to all ages. Some 70 top-ranked golfers are competing. The first day is blustery and rainy. On the internet, I see Sam has shot a 72 - four over par. The highest score is even par. Going into the final found, Sam finds himself in 10th place and within striking distance of the lead.

On the phone, he sounds satisfied. "I hit the ball terrifically," he reports, making 16 greens out of 18 in regulation. But he says he took 36 putts. "The greens were soooo fast and I had the yips." Into the 16th hole, he was only 1 over par and then he four putted from 15 feet. "I said to myself, 'be cautious and don't hit it hard,' but the ball just kept on rolling past the hole."

As he said goodbye, he said he was off to the practice green to work on the putting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Singing for Spring

It’s been a long, cold winter and I’ve neglected golf and this blog. The Belgian national golf team held its winter training in the snow. Sam actually loved it. He finds the coach encouraging and supportive and was able to bond with the other teammates. The Belgians have decided to adopt the Swedish approach by forming a permanent team and training together at regular intervals.

Over the winter, Sam has concentrated his energies on physical training , his short game and his putting. We managed to play nine holes over the past weekend and he hit the ball poorly – yet managed to finish two under. He chipped close to every pin and sunk every putt less than five feet. Last year, these areas of his game held him back from breaking through into the top levels.

Sam is still waiting for responses from universities. What a nerve wracking process. But the Belgian team leaves this Thursday for its first tournament of the year. The venue is Dinard in France. It starts tomorrow. The sun is breaking out as I write these words and hopefully spring and golf are on the way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Teenage Stars

Sam comes down for breakfast excited.

“Dad, you remember that Korean kid who impressed so much at the U.S. Junior when you were writing the book?”

“Yes, why.”

He just won a European tour event and received an invitation to play in the British Open. Indeed, South Korean Noh Seung-yul, pictured above, became the second-youngest winner in the history of golf's European Tour after edging out KJ Choi by one shot in the Maybank Malaysian Open.

Forget financial crisis. Forget Tiger Woods’s sex scandal. Teenagers still are shooting for the greens and achieving surprising success.

Noh, now 18 years old was the kabuki faced teenager who swept the stroke play at the U.S. Junior in my book, and who looked set to sweep the entire tournament before inexplicably doffing a chip and allowing a 14-year old from Texas to beat him.

He’s not the only precocious winner. Sam has just been accepted to play in the prestigious French Boys championship next month.

“It’s a great field – all the top Germanys, Spaniard and Italians will be there,” he tells me.

“What about Matteo Manassero?,” I ask, referring the 16-year old Italian teenage amateur who played with Tom Watson at last year’s British Open and finished 13th. Manassero had played at the British Boys at Royal St. Georges where both he and Sam were eliminated in the same round.

“Oh, no, Manassero is playing that week in the Masters,” Sam tells me with a smile. “Afterward he is turning pro.”