Golf Writer Andy Reistetter lives in the golf capital of the world—Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida—home of the PGA TOUR, TPC Sawgrass and THE PLAYERS, with the World Golf Hall of Fame nearby in St. Augustine. A big supporter of amateur golf, Andy was excited to recently catch his first high school match of the local Ponte Vedra Sharks. Let him take you back to high school in this article. Recall and "en joie" the innocence and fun of life and golf at that time in our lives…
Guys like K.J. Choi and Sergio Garcia come through in the clutch to win a major-like tournament that can be a springboard in their careers.
Guys like Paul Goydos and David Toms lose in the clutch but come back the next week to win, or later go out and shoot a 59 on tour.
The Stadium Course is also home to the collegiate Jacksonville Invitational in late January, hosted by local golfer and 1988 PLAYERS Champion Mark McCumber.
Not too long ago, Galvin Hall went out and shot a 64 on his 17th birthday on Pete Dye's Valley Course. The next day he conquered the Stadium Course, with its world famous par-3 17th to win the Jr. PLAYERS.
In a few weeks, the Nationwide Tour will come back to TPC Sawgrass and Pete Dye's Valley Course in the second rendition of the Winn Dixie Open.
Strategically placed the week before the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island, the road to a top-25 finish and the 2012 PGA Tour comes right through the backyard of the PGA TOUR headquarters here at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
But wait… high school golf on Pete Dye's Valley Course?
What is that, and how does that tie into the world of golf?
When I was getting ready for high-school golf, my older brother "LP" (for Lawrence Peter) did a remarkable thing for me.
He gave me a book—Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.
Not remarkable? You are right.
What was remarkable was that he inscribed it with the following written words…
"Golf is a lot like life, the more you learn and understand about it, the easier it is to meet its challenges."
Maybe that is why watching and supporting high-school golf is such a remarkable thing to do?
No matter the scores or the players, you will see it all.
The drama, the ups and downs and the storylines of emerging golfers and developing citizens of the world, not just the world of golf.
The day I watched was the day the Ponte Vedra Sharks hosted the Panthers of Palatka and the Yellow Jackets of St. Augustine.
The Sharks scored 149 and easily defeated the Panthers and Yellow Jackets.
Evidently, sharks are as fierce on land as in the sea and somehow can de-buzz the terrors of the air as well.
Scoring for the Sharks were co-medalists senior Marcus Plunkett and junior Anthony Scolapio (even par 36s), along with junior Chase Berlin (38) and sophomore Jack Bishop (39).
Their average score was 37, one over par on a course set up for the upcoming Nationwide Tour event.
As one opposing coach put it, "This is more golf course than we can handle."
But that is not the story here.
I was a Panther and Yellow Jacket combined when I was in high school.
It was a big deal for this kid from the Ely Park, Binghamton, New York, municipal course to go over to Endicott and play the Union Endicott Tigers.
Their home course was En Joie Golf Course, home to the PGA Tour's B.C. Open and now the Champion's Tour Dick's Sporting Goods Open.
En Joie's slogan is "Play where the pros play."
Sadly, I never played quite as well as a pro, but in a Section IV Championship at En Joie I did finish only five or six strokes behind Joey Sindelar and Mike Hulbert.
What is the story here?
Play golf and live life to the fullest!
The camaraderie of high school teams is exceptional.
They have fun with golf and life.
As Sharks' coach Pete Molinaro puts it, "Individually they are competitive but they all like each other and cheer for their teammates."
No wonder, because the coach is out there on the final green along with the boys congratulating each person as they finish… no matter what the score.
Here's the story lines I saw that day…
To know why the kids have so much fun, one needs only look to the supportive parents…
Mrs. Berlin is the snack lady extraordinaire for the day, driving a golf cart around with water, soda and treats for all days before Halloween.
Mother Nicole is the team mom, an amazing organizer, ensuring every parent gets a chance to drive the snack cart. She is also the team photographer.
Mother Elizabeth does scoring and communicates the results to the local newspapers.
But the kids—the kids are really cool.
Junior Andrew Ullmann and senior Tommy Anderson were the first golfers that day.
At first, I thought Andrew had an exceptionally tough day out on the links because his team uniform was a bit tarnished and he looked a bit disheveled.
Turns out it was "Spirit Week" at school, with football homecoming on Friday night, and the appearance I saw was merely face-painting gone body- and clothes-painting as well.
As a testament to the course setup (that is. the rough being grown in for the Nationwide event), Andrew lost two golf balls. Balls he hit only a few feet off the fairways of the Valley.
Remarkably, he shot a 2-over 38 playing by the rules of golf.
One lost ball became a double bogey, the other only a bogey, which would have been a mulligan par and birdie to most social golfers.
Andrew, the birdie warrior!
Freshman Matthew Plunkett, known as "Little Matteo," stands out for his tall, lanky build and almost knee-high white socks.
Reminds me a bit of myself at that age, sans my black shoes. It is Ponte Vedra Beach, after all.
"Little" must only refer to being Marcus' younger brother.
Matteo drained a 50-footer with a belly putter for bogey on the 18th to card a 41.
The Name of Matteo's belly putter?
"Amazing Grace." An F-22-LONG prototype design by Bobby Grace.
Belly putters in high school?
Okay, 25-year-old Keegan Bradley started it by winning the PGA Championship with a belly putter.
Having seen Keegan win in Atlanta, I had just returned from the Tour Championship at East Lake.
I had Phil Mickelson's group on Sunday and watched him struggle with the belly putter all day.
Phil—give it up.
Keegan, Matteo—keep it going!
Freshman Kevin Slayden navigated the rough with a special locally designed club by Jim Laudenslager of Lauden Golf.
With a palm tree logo, though maybe that is a banana tree… not sure, new to Florida.
But the best story line came from Palatka's junior Michael Farley, who described his experience on the tough Valley course with a series of hand gestures and a simple three-step story.
With hands outstretched to shoulder width, he began by noting the fairways were narrow… narrowing the separation of his hands to about the width of his nose.
Secondly, he pointed out with his hands outstretched over his head like he was commanding the pilot of a 747 on how to taxi his aircraft to a stop… the rough was UP, way UP!
Finally, with a hand gesture reminiscent of Jackie Gleason's "away we go" and adding a verbal "swish," the greens were FAST!
While one cannot predict whether or not one of these kids will go on to play golf on the PGA Tour, I would place a bet that one Michael Farley will become a great entertainer one day.
His is a good-natured, funny kid!
Living life large, isn't that what it is about?
Other playing students of the shark school include senior David Novakoski, sophomore Taylor Funk and freshman Hanks Massey.
The Sharks are currently 10-2.
Maybe these storylines and others will comprise a book to be written someday: The Five Modern Fundamentals of Life.
TPC Sawgrass: Home of high-school golf.
Why not go out and support high-school golf at your local golf course?
Have the time of your life!
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Researcher and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. He spends time on all four major American golf tours—the PGA Tour, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA Tour headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com
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