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Ciesielski's attitude refreshes at CanOpen

My column from Friday and Saturday on Cambridge’s Victor Ciesielski, only the third Canadian Amateur to make it through to the weekend in the last 25 years, accompanied by a piece on Richard Scott, who became the fourth to pull it off.

All this instead of frosh week: Ciesielski fires a 69: Low Canadian should be downing beers, not birdies

By Robert Thompson

ANCASTER, ONT. – Coming up the 18th fairway at the Canadian [photopress:ciesielski.jpg,full,alignright]Open yesterday, Victor Ciesielski looked like a rock star. Outside the ropes, he had an entourage of fans sporting white shirts emblazoned with a picture of the golfer’s face framed by his prominent shaggy haircut.

But Ciesielski, 21, is far from a superstar. In fact he’s an amateur from Cambridge, Ont., who played like a seasoned pro yesterday at a soggy Hamilton Golf and Country. He carded a two-under-par round of 69 that positioned him as low Canadian after the first day. He currently sits in a tie for 29th place.

Unlike Canadians such as Mike Weir and Ian Leggatt, Ciesielski never expected to be playing in the Canadian Open this week. Instead, he was planning to put first-year students through their paces during frosh week at the University of Waterloo, where he is enrolled in the recreation program.

But he shot 66 in the Monday qualifier to gain entrance to the tournament. Despite the quick switch, it hasn’t taken long for him to become comfortable in the big-time atmosphere.

“There might have been a little bit [of awe] when I walked into the players’ lounge and guys like Vijay are sitting down and eating shrimp,” he joked after his round yesterday. ” ‘But oh, all right, I’ll take some shrimp, too. Don’t mind if I do.’ It’s all business out here, and that’s the way you have to treat it.”

On the course, Ciesielski only struggled on occasion, like the 12th hole where an erratic drive left him fumbling for par. For the remainder, he played boldly, attacking the course with a game that belied his limited experience.

“Actually, everything is kind of clicking,” he said, noting he’s been under par in his last 30 rounds. “I’m not saying that everything is really good. It’s just everything is kind of the same.”

Ciesielski recently broke Ian Leggatt’s long standing record at Galt Country Club, shooting an astounding 61 before heading to the Monday qualifier.

But he’s also realistic, and plans to hold onto his amateur status — at least for now.

“I’m not ready for it yet,” he said about turning pro. “My game isn’t good enough to be out here yet.”

His skill as a golfer is surprising considering Ciesielski is the son of blue-collar workers who left Poland when he was two years old. They have never had a real understanding of their son’s interest in golf.

“In Poland, no one golfs,” said his father, Wes, who, along with his wife, Anna, followed their son around Hamilton Golf and Country Club yesterday. “We had no idea what golf was about.”

That didn’t stop their son from starting to play at the age of 14. He quickly excelled, and within a year was a top junior player in Ontario. His abilities as a golfer landed him a partial scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University.

But the coach at VCU wanted to tinker with Ciesielski’s homegrown golf swing, making his pupil miserable in the process. He left the school last year, and will play at Waterloo this year.

At the other end of the confidence spectrum is James Lepp.

Lepp, the former NCAA individual champion from Abbotsford, B.C., who turned pro earlier this summer, has struggled to find his game.

While there are no expectations praying Ciesielski’s mind, Lepp is surrounded by hype and the accompanying pressure. He has struggled mightily in two previous PGA Tour outings this year. He missed the cut at both the Buick Open in August and last weekend’s Deutsche Bank Championship.

It turns out Lepp is his toughest critic.

“I think people believe in me more than I believe in myself,” he said yesterday despite shooting a one-under-par 71. “Come watch me on a bad round and I play like a 10-handicap.”

In fact, Lepp says he’s largely struggled since winning the NCAA golf championship in 2005.

“If you look at my statistics, I’ve played one good tournament in two years,” he said. “The rest of the time I suck.”

Like Ciesielski, Lepp is a player who has largely eschewed swing doctors and figured out how to play the game on his own. When he’s playing well, like he did in 2004 when he won on the Canadian Tour as an amateur, Lepp has looked like Canada’s next golf star. But lately he’s more likely to fire up an 81, like he did in the second round at the Deutsche Bank Championship last Saturday.

For Lepp, every day appears to be a battle with the demons of self-doubt.

“I can get it going on the range and that’ll get me confident,” he said. “But by the time I get on the course, I can feel it slipping away.”

“In Poland, no one golfs,” said his father, Wes, who, along with his wife, Anna, followed their son around Hamilton Golf and Country Club yesterday. “We had no idea what golf was about.”

That didn’t stop their son from starting to play at the age of 14. He quickly excelled, and within a year was a top junior player in Ontario. His abilities as a golfer landed him a partial scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University.

But the coach at VCU wanted to tinker with Ciesielski’s homegrown golf swing, making his pupil miserable in the process. He left the school last year, and will play at Waterloo this year.

At the other end of the confidence spectrum is James Lepp.

Lepp, the former NCAA individual champion from Abbotsford, B.C., who turned pro earlier this summer, has struggled to find his game.

While there are no expectations praying Ciesielski’s mind, Lepp is surrounded by hype and the accompanying pressure. He has struggled mightily in two previous PGA Tour outings this year. He missed the cut at both the Buick Open in August and last weekend’s Deutsche Bank Championship.

It turns out Lepp is his toughest critic.

“I think people believe in me more than I believe in myself,” he said yesterday despite shooting a one-under-par 71. “Come watch me on a bad round and I play like a 10-handicap.”

In fact, Lepp says he’s largely struggled since winning the NCAA golf championship in 2005.

Like Ciesielski, Lepp is a player who has largely eschewed swing doctors and figured out how to play the game on his own. When he’s playing well, like he did in 2004 when he won on the Canadian Tour as an amateur, Lepp has looked like Canada’s next golf star. But lately he’s more likely to fire up an 81, like he did in the second round at the Deutsche Bank Championship last Saturday.

For Lepp, every day appears to be a battle with self-doubt.

“I can get it going on the range and that’ll get me confident,” he said. “But by the time I get on the course, I can feel it slipping away.”

Historic feat for Scott and Ciesielski: Amateurs make cut

By Robert Thompson

ANCASTER, ONT. – If Richard Scott was a little distracted yesterday, it is to be expected. After all, the three-time Canadian Amateur champion was in the process of making a bit of history out at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club, what with his one-under-par 69 giving him the honour of becoming only the third Canadian amateur to qualify for the weekend in the past 23 years.

Doug Roxborough made the cut in 1983, while Chris Baryla accomplished the feat in 2003. And before the day was over there would be a fourth, with Victor Ciesielski of Cambridge, Ont., joining the group, aided in no small part by a hole-in-one on the 210-yard, par-three sixth hole.

“It was just wild,” Ciesieski said. “I wasn’t sure. Everyone was like ‘It’s in, it’s in!’ So I started giving everyone high fives and hugs and stuff.”

It wasn’t the highlight reel shot by his fellow amateur that was clouding Scott’s thoughts, however. It was his long-term plans that were prying on his mind.

“Obviously I didn’t play perfect golf,” the native of Kingsville, Ont., said after his round, which included four birdies and three bogeys. “But there were lots of people out there cheering really hard for me.”

As one of only a handful of Canadians to win at least three Canadian Amateur titles, there are heightened expectations for Scott, who played his college golf at the University of Georgia and is pondering the best way to go forward with his career in golf.

He won’t turn pro and play in the PGA Tour’s qualifying school this fall since he’ll be playing the World Amateur in South Africa at the end of October.

Instead, he’ll make the jump at the start of next year. But beyond that, the road ahead has yet to be determined. He could turn pro and play the Canadian Tour as a warmup for Q-School in late 2007, or he could follow the route taken by Baryla, who has been successful recently in qualifying on Mondays for Nationwide Tour events.

But first he has to find an agent who can help him raise the cash needed to play in professional golf’s hinterlands, places such as the Hooters Tour and the nomadic Canadian Tour.

“I’ve got to find the right guy,” he said, noting he’s been asking peers about their experience with the business side. “You’ve got to have a guy you can be real with.”

In the meantime, Scott says his experience this week has helped build his confidence for the next phase of his career.

“I’ve shown I can compete out here,” he says. “And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve learned to have fun out here as well.”

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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