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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Last Chance

Sam rushes from a final exam in history to play in the Belgian National Championship. He knows this is his final opportunity to make the Belgian national team. He is ranked sixth and still has hope – if he plays well.

The first day is mediocre – five over par 77.

Tee time for the second round is early in the morning 8 a.m. We rise at 5:30 a.m. and drive an hour to the course, which is located in eastern Flanders. I will caddy. Sam struggles at the beginning and is four over at the turn. He then gets two birdies on holes 10 and 12. But he falters coming in and finishes four over par at 76.

This is good enough to make the cut, putting him 36th. But it is not sparkling.

On the final day, 36 holes are on the menu. Again, a 5:30 a.m. start is required. Sam is solid on the first round. The putting lesson with Phil Kenyon is paying off. But he is not hitting the ball well and giving himself enough opportunities for birdies on the par five. He finishes the morning at plus four again, a bit disappointed.

In the afternoon, he still is not hitting the ball with authority. But he is sinking putts on almost all holes and he is birdying the par fives. He gets to the turn in even par. He birdies the next par five and on the 16th hole, he almost drives the hole, chipping to within seven feet and sinking the putt. Although he bogies the 18th, he finishes one under par, beating all his direct competitors for the Belgian national team. Altogether, he is a respectable 19th.

He displayed a newfound maturity on the course. Even though he didn’t hit the ball well, he managed the course and scrambled for his best round of the year. “I did everything I could to make the team,” he says on the ride back home.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Putting Trip

Throughout the spring, Sam has sruggled with his putting and his nerves. While he continues to resist seeing a sports psychologist, he is more than willing to visit a putting psychologist.

“The best putting coach in Europe is Phil Kenyon,” his coach tells him.

Sam does some research and finds that Kenyon works out of Southport, England.

“Where’s Southport?,” I ask. It’s near Liverpool, Sam tells me, and we begin to plot how to get there. There are no flights between Brussels and Liverpool. There is a flight to Manchester, but its expensive. We decide to go to Scotland, drive south, and turn it into a golf weekend.

In Southport, we find a fading Victorian summer resort. Phil Kenyon works out of a small office in back of a row house. Could this be Europe’s putting mecca? Yes, it is.

Within a few minutes, Kenyon has analyzed what’s wrong with his putting stroke – and with his mental approach to putting. He checks his eyesight and shows that he is left eye strong, requiring him to stand over the ball at the front of his head. Wielding a sophisticated computer, he shows Sam how his stroke is too left to right and needs to be more straight back and straight though. He also works on his breathing and his “attitude” when he stands over the ball on the green. Sam gets a putter fitted for him and he no longer has any excuses.

Sam leaves understanding what was going wrong and he has a path to work on the problems. It was the first time that he was given such a clear explanation of his putting woes.

Beyond putting, Kenyon impressed He spoke clearly. He dissected Sam’s problem and explained how to fix it with concrete solutions. By the end of the lesson, I believe Sam has not just gotten a lesson in putting, but a lesson in how to tackle many tough problems in life. Get good data. Analyze the problem. Work hard – and be optimistic.

In the afternoon, Sam and I discovered that the Southport area is sprinkled with great links golf course after links golf course. Royal Birkdale, home to the British Open, looks magnificent, but costs almost 200 pounds a round. Hesketh, less spectacular, but still terrific, is our budget choice and we are delighted. I play terribly and lose a dozen or more balls.

But the next day, we play a lovely course called Formby Ladies. Formby also has a distinguished men’s course, but the ladies’ one is cheaper and uses the same terrain. I play a lot better, shooting a proud 77.

Sam is two over until the final two holes when he loses his concentration. Playing with Dad is just not a serious pursuit, like competing in a real tournament. His putting is not perfect. He still pushes a ton of balls right of the hole. But he also sees to be gaining in confidence on the greens. “I feel like I know what to work on now,” he says afterward.

The next day, we board the plane in Scotland and spot two Belgian touring pros, Guillaume Wattremez and Pierre Relecom. They were returning from the Challenge Tour event in Macdonald Spey Valley in northern Scotland.

"Where were you?," they asked.

"Seeing a putting coach," Sam responded.

"Oh, Phil Kenyon," Relecom answered, without hesitation. "He's the best. A real guru. He doesn't just teach you about putting. He teaches you about psychology."

So Phil, watch out. You may be getting a call from Relecom.