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Champ vs. chump: Lund takes Harman to task on the links

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POSTED August 25, 2010 2:41 a.m.
Kyle Harman is the type of player that will go find the tee he used when practicing his drives at the range, even though he bought a bag of 100 for $4.99. Just because he has a scholarship to play college golf, doesn’t mean he is above such a thing as recycling tees.

I watched the tail end of his 7-iron work, every shot exactly the same, coming almost exactly 30 seconds after the previous.
 
Then out came the Big Dog. The tees cartwheel after the range ball, vying for some attention. Once the striped ball ceases to bounce, Kyle retrieves the tee.

His first hack off the tee was at age 8. About 10 years earlier, when I was the same age, my brother, dad and I were zig-zagging our way across a course in Greeley, Colo. Every memory is lost in the hazard of time except when dad topped his hunter orange colored ball and fell, writhing in pain from his swung out back. Now that I think about it, helping dad into the cart could be the moment my brother decided to be a doctor, and I thought telling stories would be a fun way to make a living.

In the seconds it takes Kyle to stab the ground and set the dimpled ball on the synthetic rim, I can tell he is a little nervous with me sitting behind him.

“You want to hit some?” he offers.
“It won’t make a difference, you do your thing.”

He’s relaxed and focused, his version of the game face his favorite golfer Tiger Woods wears, though Kyle’s demeanor undulates between friendly kid and focused amateur. When Tiger’s current state of disarray is discussed, Kyle slumps his shoulders a bit.

It hurts to have the guy he looked up to so fully tainted, but tragic heroes have tragic flaws. Besides, in the words of NBA great Charles Barkley, parents should be the role models, not athletes. The only part of Kyle that resembles the world’s top and most troubled golfer is his attire.

Kyle is clad in Nike shoes, a Tiger Nike hat and a black Tiger shirt. The Tiger shorts were too expensive, but the tees? Same as Tiger uses.

I know I’m in trouble after he smashes a drive halfway to Redding, turns, smiles and asks if I am ready.  

Last week, Kyle won the Northern California PGA Junior Tour Championship.
Last week, it took me 21 more shots than recommended to finish 9-holes.

Yeah, I’m ready.

I ask him about the rankings and winning something with such a long acronym. He instantly flushes. Its followed by a nervous smile as he responds.

He thinks it’s cool, fun. I’m not fully convinced this kid knows how to fully read the fortuitous breaks he’s had in his life. He’s great at a sport so many people professionally stink at and its paying for his school. He needs synonyms for cool.

I change the subject — Breakfast.

He had waffles before four hours at the course, working on his short game.

“You that intimidated by me you had to tune up?”

He laughs, though it’s not that of a punk prodigy that would ever entertain the notion of referring to himself in the third person, giving himself a nickname, or holding a press conference to tell the world he has made up his mind.

I hit first, and try to hide my excitement after the straight travel of the ball. He smiles, does the same, only 20 yards longer.

My second shot goes 20 yards total, third is in the water.

He lines up his second shot.
“I’m gunna try and hook this around the trees.”

He’s talking to himself. He’s not one for trash talk or calling his shots.

So when his Nike ball sails majestically to the right of the trees and gently arcs back and lands on the green, I say nothing.

I am best equipped to use fishing metaphors to articulate life, but there is nothing fishy about the jovial way the ball leaps when Kyle brings down the face. The ball is so excited and loyal it starts before contact, it seems, enthusiastically commencing on a journey that will end up in short, groomed grass, sitting properly like a labrador about to fetch.

My bargain-bin specials squat cynically, pessimistically, and fly in defiant angles, trying to hide themselves in gopher holes to save further embarrassment.

It’s funny, to Kyle at least.
By the third hole I’m six back, but we’re talking college, so it doesn’t really matter. I wonder if he’s baffled I don’t take warm up swings or much more than a moment to line up my shot, or if he cares about anything outside of his own play and answering my questions.

Despite the accolades that have come to the two-time Valley Oak League MVP, he doesn’t really have the interview thing down yet. He still speaks honesty and candidly, without rehearsal. That is, he doesn’t have the impersonal favorite line that athletes develop to look good in print. He’s just happy, and it shows as the gap between us grows with each of my double-bogeys.

I’m sure he felt sorry for me, but being as competitive as he is, he’d want to lose as much as he’d want to clean his contact lenses in Tabasco sauce.

His game is off, but in a way that’s still almost elegant. It’s an inch or two here and there.

In the end, I took 1.55 more strokes per hole, or 14 more strokes for the nine-hole loop. Despite the pounding, he isn’t happy about his game. He’ll go home, eat, then work on the short game some more.

For a guy that one day wants to be a pro, he’s got the right attitude: work harder even after you demolish the guy that wants to do an interview over a half round.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.

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