As the best golfers in the world battle it out for the U.S. Open championship today, a homegrown possible future star of the sport will take on some of the best young golfers in the country.
Less than three years ago, Ford Berger stepped away from his baseball team and followed his father onto the golf course. In a sport that many spend most of their lives trying to master, Berger, 13, found that a smooth swing and hitting the ball straight came naturally to him.
Some quick success in various tournaments around the Statesboro region — as well as a handicap that hovers around 1 — earned Berger a spot in the Future Masters Tournament beginning today at the Dothan Country Club in Dothan, Ala.
“I was really excited about making the field,” Berger said. “I know that it’s a great tournament. I wasn’t hoping for too much, but I am confident that I can compete if I got in.”
The prestigious event was founded in 1950 and features an invitation-only field. In fact, the tournament has a history of reaching out to young golfers projected to have a future career on the PGA Tour.
“It’s going to be fun competing against some great golfers,” said Berger, who will be a freshman at Statesboro High in August. “In some tournaments, there are older guys, which can really help me to push my maturity on the course. (The Future Masters) will have me in a group with players closer to my age, but there’s a lot of talent to compete with.”
While Berger has already harnessed a sweet swing, there are other obstacles to overcome in order to achieve success in a tournament setting.
Diabolically designed courses, changing weather, a lack of control of how competitors score and plain old bad luck are all factors that can eat away at a golfer on top of the already-difficult task of getting through 18 holes as efficiently as possible.
“Ford is very dedicated to improving on every aspect of his game,” Marten Olsson, director of golf at the Georgia Southern Golf Course said. “It’s not enough to just practice and be the best guy on the range. There’s also more to it than being able to take the same swing onto the course.”
With a helping hand from Olsson, Berger has elevated his approach to the game along with his ability to execute during competition.
“We work on three aspects,” Berger said. “There’s the rules side, the mental side and the game side. It’s good to be hitting the ball well, but I also want to know how to approach a certain hole and how to make sure I don’t get myself into trouble by knowing all of the rules that are in play.”
Using the GSU course
Berger is just the latest in a growing number of young golfers who are benefitting from the new Georgia Southern course.
Since being named director, Olsson has ensured the availability of the course and practice facilities to young golfers in the area. All of Bulloch County’s public schools use the course for practice and competitions, and have held fundraising tournaments to help their golf programs.
With success stories like Berger emerging, even more is in the works.
“We’ve already run a few programs, but more are coming,” Olsson said. “We’re looking for juniors, seniors, women – really anyone who is interested in learning the game. More specific things will come soon, and the best way to keep up is to go to gsgolfcourse.com.”
As for Berger, this weekend’s Future Masters could be just the first step in an impressive journey. According to Berger’s father Art, more national competition is possible in Ford’s near future.
Ford will continue to compete in individual tournaments throughout this season and into next – when he figures to take on an additional role as a member of the Statesboro High team. Following that, bids at qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur (for players 18 and under) and possibly for the U.S. Amateur, which has no age restriction.
“It’s been a joy to watch Ford embrace the game and to dedicate himself to it,” Art Berger said. “I’m very happy for all the success that he’s had so far, but the real reward is that he comes out a confident and talented individual outside of the sport.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.