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Young golfers are fascinating. A conversation with a new golfer just setting out to conquer the game reveals enthusiasm and excitement unlike any other sport. I can’t help but believe it’s because they have discovered the game of a lifetime.
Most sports involve team effort; it’s one group against another group in a small territorial war. Think football, basketball, ice hockey and soccer. See what I mean?
Even baseball has territorial aspects as each team takes turns defending the field.
There may be individual stars in each of these sports, but it’s still the team that counts.
Some individual sports have an outside agent that affects the outcome of the competition. In tennis, your opponent directly impacts your score. If he slams the ball at you, gets a bunch of aces and has a vicious backhand, you’re toast.
In diving and gymnastics, a judge awards scores based on performance, and that can be very subjective.
Golf is different. The player controls his own destiny. No one hits the ball back at you. No one steals it in midfield or slams into you while you are trying to putt. The golfer pursues his prize all by himself. He is a warrior who crosses lakes, skirts swamps, digs the ball out of sand pits and battles heat, cold, wind and rain to gain the prize.
That’s why golf is such a great game. If you start a kid in golf, support and encourage him or her, then someday he or she may play on a college golf team like Chris Nuhn does.
Chris lives in Greensboro, but his family has a vacation home in Ocean Isle Beach. Last week, Chris, his dad and I sat and talked about junior golf and the complicated process involved in getting on a college team and the even more arduous process of obtaining a golf scholarship.
Chris is a freshman on the golf team at Charleston Southern University, a small college in the Big South Conference. Other conference members include Coastal Carolina, High Point, Liberty, UNC Asheville, Winthrop and VMI.
Today, Chris can’t remember when he did not play golf. His current home is near Sedgefield Country Club (site of this year’s Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic) and Grandover Resort. But as a youngster, Chris also played tennis and started his athletic career in junior tennis leagues.
“I loved tennis, and as a 9- and 10-year-old, I played in junior tournaments all over the state. When I jumped into competition with 11-year-olds, it was a whole new level. The kids were huge and strong, and it was not easy to compete. I decided that golf was probably a better sport for me.”
Chris’ father Rick said junior golf competition was a whole new learning experience for their family. He suggested I check out the Tarheel Youth Golf Association Web site (tyga.org) to see just how extensive junior tournaments are in North Carolina.
I did and discovered an amazing website with all kinds of resources and contacts for junior golfers. The “events schedule” lists hundreds of junior golf tournaments for kids of all ages and abilities. These are sponsored by various local, regional and national golf organizations including the United States Golf Association (USGA), the Carolina Golf Association (CGA), the Future Collegians World Tour (FCWT), the International Junior Golf Association (IJGA) and the Carolinas PGA (CPGA).
Some are open to kids as young as 7. Others are invitational tournaments. Still others are open to juniors who qualify with points they obtain by playing junior tours. There are boys’ and girls’ events.
The first 2008 tournament was Jan. 5-6 at the Duke University Golf Course in Durham. It was sponsored by the Triad Golf Today Junior Tour (TGTJT). The last event of the year is the Donald Ross Junior Tournament in Pinehurst on Dec. 27-28.
On some weekends, several events are in various parts of the state.
“Kids are competing early and amassing points, looking at college already when they are only in their freshmen and sophomore years,” Rick said. “We did not realize all this was going on, so Chris got into it later than most.”
When he applied to college, Chris submitted a two-page resume that included academics, outside activities, previous golf instruction and a summary of both his junior competition and his high school season. On a separate sheet, he listed every junior event in which he played and how he placed. He also provided each college golf coach with an introduction or letter of interest, a list of references from golf instructors and a video CD of his golf swing (driver, irons, short game and putting).
Today, Chris is happy with his choice of Charleston Southern. He works hard and practices and plays every day.
“One of the difficulties of playing on a college golf team is the traveling,” he said. “Sometimes we miss classes to go to a tournament. The teachers know what we’re doing, and they cut us some slack and allow make-ups and stuff, but sometimes it’s hard.”
There are eight men on Chris’ team, but only five scores count for the team in each tournament. The other competitors may win an individual prize but cannot help the team. Designating the five team players in each tournament is a difficult decision the coach must make.
Howard Vroon coaches the Charleston Southern team.
“He’s a great coach,” Chris said. “He studied for several years under David Ledbetter (one of the premier golf instructors in the world). We practice making cut shots and the deliberate fade. Maybe we’ll need that to get around a tree or a dogleg. The coach always stresses course management, picking the right clubs to land where you have the easiest shot to the green. After each tournament, we sit and talk and analyze each hole. The coach always asks, ‘What can we do to make it better?’ Those discussions help a lot.”
The best part of Chris’ game?
“Accuracy. I’m not the longest hitter on the team, but right now I’m hitting 90 percent of the fairways and getting on the greens in regulation 70 percent of the time. That’s important.”
What does Christ enjoy the most?
“I love pressure. If I need to make a shot for the win, I love it.”
We could all learn a lesson from Chris Nuhn. Golf is a sport. Enjoy it and play with gusto.
Golf Gab Groaner
How to tell the difference between a public and a private course:
1. When a member of the private club hits a good shot, his fellow players say, “Fine shot, Edward!” When a guys at the public links hits a good one, his buddies say, “You lucky son-of-a-gun!”
2. The balls on the practice range of a private club later become the pro-shop inventory at the public golf course.
3. At a private club, they shine your street shoes while you play your round. At the public course, you lock your shoes in the trunk of your car.
4. The golf carts at private clubs barely emit a sound. At the public links, the carts sound like a 1970 Dodge Challenger with a 440 hemi engine and dual exhausts.
5. At private courses, men restrict the days and times that women can play. At public courses, wives usually decide when their husbands can play.
6. At private courses, they play the ball as it lies. At public courses, they play it as it lays, then lie.
7. Starters on private courses are retired executives. Starters on public courses are off-duty cops.