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December 11, 2009 (Naples, FL) - Several hundred fans, including a slew of giddy kids, took a break from the serious Shark Shootout competition at Tiburón Golf Club on Friday afternoon to learn from and be entertained by tournament host Greg Norman and competitors J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Jeff Sluman during the seventh-annual Suncoast Family Golf Clinic.
Wearing a lime-green shirt and big Australian grin despite missing his first Shootout because of shoulder surgery in September, Norman was the emcee, taking questions from the audience and steering them to the players while Holmes ripped drives and Fowler and Sluman pitched irons.
It was like a 45-minute fantasy lesson from a world of different experiences — Fowler, who turns 21 Sunday, is the youngest-ever Shootout competitor; Holmes is the monster driver who placed third or better in the stat from 2005-2008 with averages of more than 300 yards; Sluman is a 52-year-old with six PGA Tour victories under his belt; and Norman is the two-time British Open champion and has 29 top-10 finishes in majors.
After the beneficiary of this year’s tournament — Cureseach Children's Oncology Group — was discussed, the golfers talked of the necessity of consistent swings, generating speed with hips on drives, the importance of finding the right balls for each individual’s specific approach and how Norman and Sluman would have a field-day if the Tour, as Holmes suggested, would host an annual persimmon-wood tournament.
They also talked about their beginnings and choosing the sport. Norman grew up swimming and surfing competitively and played rugby and cricket before taking up golf seriously at 17. He played his first pro tourney at 21. Norman relayed a conversation the previous night with a 58-year-old woman, saying, “It’s never too late to take up the game of golf.”
To a youngster, Norman said, “Play several sports with an equal amount of passion and one will come to you. The important thing is to find a game you can play the rest of your life.”
Holmes played baseball and basketball in Campbellsville, Ky., but skipped football because it was during golf season. He picked up his first club at 14 months.
Fowler said his parents didn’t steer him toward golf. In fact, his dad was into motocross and airboats and knew almost nothing about the game his son picked up at 3 after one trip to the driving range. At 4 1/2, Fowler played in his first tournament, but he also continued to ride motocross, which he began as a toddler, and pitched baseballs into high school.
Sluman started golfing at 4. He played no other sports, although the 5-foot-7 golfer joked that he had been a basketball center and defensive lineman before dropping weight ... and height.
The toughest thing about golf? Head games.
“Nothing’s easy,” said Holmes, laughing.
“Managing expectations,” Norman said. “It’s all about expectations, you’ve got to manage those. If you don’t feel good about it, you’ve got to get yourself pumped up a little bit. And if you feel too cocky and too confident, you have to bring yourself down a little bit.”
Holmes nodded: “Managing expectations is a big part of it. I personally think putting’s pretty hard. You can hit a lot of good putts that don’t go in. There are a lot of factors when you’re putting — wind and rain, different types of grass. Some days you can do everything right and nothing goes in. Some days you can not feel too good, hit some bad putts, and they go in the hole.”
Fowler, who played two years at Oklahoma State and recommended every good golfer do at least that much time in college to learn “life lessons,” could relate.
“My last year in college I was expecting a little bit too much out of myself, put a little bit too much pressure on myself instead of going out and having fun and letting things happen,” Fowler said. “I was trying to force things. Expectations are probably the hardest things.”
Sluman agreed with the take-it-easy approach.
“Historically, I play my poorest golf when I have my highest expectations,” he said. “When I felt like I was really playing great ... you get a little cocky internally. After multiple times of that, I realized that was my deal, and I just had to get into the round and just kind of let it happen."
- Dana Caldwell
Christine BorkEmail Christine(240) 235-2208