How to play the right way

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I spent a lot of last week enjoying the state Junior Match Play Championship at Nansemond River Golf Club.

Covering high-level golf tournaments always brings a mix of awe, respect and a tinge of frustration at how, in this case, the 14- to 18-year-old kids make the game look how it’s supposed to look.

So that’s what a three-iron is supposed to look like. So that’s how a short putt for par goes without the yips. So that’s how a drive on the wrong side of the cart path doesn’t ruin a hole, let alone the next three or four.

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During the final match on Friday afternoon while watching the two finalists make easy-looking pars on a 180-yard par three, Mark Lambert, the PGA pro at Nansemond River, and I were talking about the event when he remarked how outstanding all of the junior players had been, as far as their etiquette and sportsmanship, all week long.

I had noticed a little of it, but certainly not as much of the superb sportsmanship as I should have, until he made me think of it. In one sense, as is too often the way it is with good examples of conduct and behavior, there was nothing to notice.

Despite the competition, the pressure of a prestigious event and 100-degree heat with players playing up to 38 holes on some days, at least for what I was on hand for, there wasn’t one problem, argument or unraked bunker.

For most of the four days, the only spectators on the course were an occasional parent. It was never anything grand or amazing, but little things like applause for both golfers and offering water to both golfers was the norm.

Even though the 101 players in the field are among the best in the state, there were still some high scores, bad holes, unlucky breaks and poor putts around Nansemond River. It probably happened a couple times somewhere around the course, but I know I didn’t see a thrown club.

In a few instances, a losing player stuck around for the afternoon match or even for the next day or two to caddie for a player who had advanced. If being dejected about losing wouldn’t have been a good enough reason to call it a week, certainly spending five more hours out in the heat could have been.

The best junior golfers in Virginia put on a good display of competition and how to play the sport at Nansemond River. Even better, though, they showed how to play the sport properly and with perfect etiquette, even for those of us for whom the thought of breaking par is a complete fantasy.