Kids Take Different Approach to Golf
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Ten-year-olds are all over the putting green at Little River these days, but don't ask if they ever stroll downhill to the lake. You'll get a blank stare.
They don't see that lovely pool with its reflections of tall pines as a lake. To these focused young golfers, it's a water hazard.
Matthew Epstein was taking turns putting a pair of brightly colored balls around the practice green during an after-lunch break Wednesday. He's from just outside Boston.
"My dad gave me a club when I was 2 years old," he said impishly. "It's fun."
Some kids, some parents, take this week's U.S. Kids Golf competition very seriously. A few actually arrived early, coming down weeks ago for daily play and training. The Epsteins aren't like that.
"We got here yesterday. We went to Kiawah Island in South Carolina for a family vacation first," Matthew said. "We went to the beach. We went swimming, played some golf. It was fun."
Even at that, Epstein admits to thinking they could just go on up to Pinehurst. He's an earnest young contender at this summer's U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. At the age of 10, Matthew is competing with others his age on the Dan Maples-designed course at Little River Golf Resort in Carthage. He knows his usual game and what he'll need to do for a chance at a win.
"I shoot in the low 80s," he says. "It's OK, but winners usually shoot in the low 70s."
Matthew says any pro golfer regularly figures on having a 12-foot putt to the hole.
"Unless you are off the green and had a bad chip," he said. "Usually you either have a 3-foot putt to the pin, or you are a long way from the pin. Sometimes I put them in a circle around the hole and try to putt at least 10 out of 12 in the hole. I'm working on my short game a lot. Chipping and putting is where the scoring happens. I'm trying to improve my mental game - you know, don't get down on yourself, keep a good attitude."
His family - mom and dad and older sister - aren't pushing him.
"I play other sports," he said. "Baseball and basketball. We just won the summer All-Star League for baseball. I play pitcher, first base, third base, and then I'm in the outfield."
Matthew's "daddy caddie," Larry Epstein, arrived. He introduced his wife, Jody, and their 13-year-old daughter, Sydney.
"She has nothing to do with golf," he said. "She doesn't play it. She doesn't have any interest in it; but she loves supporting her brother, which is nice. She focuses on her studies. She's an avid reader. She plays field hockey, softball. Those are her two sports."
Epstein used to be a sports producer for ABC in Boston. Early on he figured his boy for a player.
"If you saw his swing, it's impeccable. So is his baseball swing," Epstein says. "He's got great focus. I just knew from an early stage that he would have terrific hand and eye coordination. I tell Matt this is not all about winning. If he comes in the top 50, that would be a home run. If he shoots in the low 80s, high 70s, that's kind of the goal. It's not 'to win' at 10. It's to have fun."
The family's aim is fun, the experience of meeting people from other places.
"There are people down here who have been here for five, six, seven weekdays," he said, wonderingly. "That's pretty intense. We went to the beach. He was thinking about it, because he's such a natural competitor, but he enjoyed himself. We had a great time."
Last month, it was baseball, last week, the ocean. This week, it's golf.
"It's got to be fun," Epstein said. "To succeed at anything in life, you gotta love it. It's got to be on your terms. If you don't love it? Something else. For right now ..."
"I love it," Matt said.
San Francisco's Carson Levit is another contender. His mother and her parents are with him while his dad's camping out at Lake Tahoe.
"I'm the mom," Suzanne Levit said with a grin. "So I'm the caddie."
She and her son were interviewed having supper in Derby's Ale House at Little River on Wednesday night.
"I like to play golf," Carson said, smiling. "No one in my family plays golf. My dad doesn't play golf - well, he started when I started; but he only plays when I play with him. I beat him.
"I just started playing. I've only been playing two years, only playing really seriously - like every day - for a year-and-a-half."
He came to Little River following a third place finish in Scotland at the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf European Championship. Ending at 221 after three days of play, Carson finished only a single stroke behind Dylan Fritz from Las Vegas and South African kid champ Martin Vorster - the top two in his age group who each scored 220. Fritz won in a playoff.
"Bebe and Poppa play golf," Carson said, indicating grandparents Fred and Betty Devitt, who beamed from the far end of the table. "I just played at Asheville with her on the front nine and Poppa on the back nine."
Who played better?
"Uh, I'm not sure," Carson said with obvious tact, changing the subject. "I played in the San Diego Junior Masters. The first day I shot 69, three under ..."
He's about to go hole by hole, recalling every drive and every putt.
"Karl birdied the first hole - he made a 20-footer - and then on the second hole I made a 20-footer for birdie," he is saying. "Then I hit it to three feet and birdied the next hole ..."
He's referring to an Australian opponent, Karl Villips.
"... and then we tied ..."
Mom is laughing and saying, "You should wrap it up!"
After two days a tie forced a playoff. Villips won; Levit finished second.
"Karl made his putt," Carson says. "Mine was breaking to the right - I thought it was just out, left edge. I hit it on line, but it broke off to the right; so he won. I parred it."
Unlike other sports - baseball, football, soccer and others - at golf kids can do as well or better than professionals.
Their scores can be the envy of seasoned pros and daunting to duffers everywhere.
"If you think about other things, you aren't going to play well," this youngster said. "I've only been playing tournaments for a year."
That said, young Carson Levit has a couple of long range goals he's set himself.
"To be on the PGA tour," he said, serious for a moment. "And to be the best player in the world."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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