‘Never seen anyone like him,’ top pro says of 6-year-old phenom Mini-golfer competing in world championship
He can drive — long, straight and consistently.
His short game is solid and he’s got a gift for reading putts.
He’s got a great attitude, readily acknowledging his game’s weakness — long irons. “I have a hard time getting them up,” he says. Kid, join the freaking club.
He’s got one of the leading golf instructors in the country tutoring him — and the coach says he’s never seen anything like him.
He’s already won internationally and next month will travel to the fabled and historic North Carolina loop of Pinehurst to compete for a world championship.
And he’s, wait for it now — six years old.
Winnipeg, meet Bailey Bjornson.
“I’ve taught some young kids — lots of them,” says two-time Canadian golf teacher of the year Derek Ingram, “but I’ve never seen anyone like him. I almost hit the floor the first time I saw him.”
Now, the temptation at this point is to evoke the legend of Tiger Woods in all this, to recall in the telling of Bjornson’s story the oft-told tale about how Woods was introduced to the game at the age of nine months by his father Earl and how by two years old, Tiger had already made an appearance on the Mike Douglas show (where he putted with Bob Hope).
But that would be wrong for a couple of reasons. First, Bjornson’s no Tiger. Nobody is. Is he good beyond his years? Yeah. But Tiger good? Not even close — Tiger had already appeared in Golf Digest by the time he was Bjornson’s age. Bjornson has now appeared in the Free Press, which isn’t quite the same.
Second, I don’t care how good Bjornson is — no six-year-old deserves to have that kind of pressure put on him, least of all a kid from a northern burg like Winnipeg who at this point is still just playing golf because, well, it feels good.
“I like to hit the ball,” says Bjornson, between pulls of apple juice.
But what is interesting though is this — ask Bjornson who his favourite golfer is and he’ll tell you that it’s Woods. That’s what you’d expect him to say.
But ask him why he likes Woods the best and the answer’s more revealing.
Because it’s not Tiger’s success, his money or even his hot Swedish wife (the kid is just 5 after all — give him time) that Bjornson most admires; rather, it’s the way Woods handles himself on those rare occasions when golf’s greatest fails that young Bailey cites as his reason.
“When Tiger hits a bad shot,” Bjornson says, “he always comes back with a good shot.”
That he chose that aspect of Tiger’s game — his composure amidst adversity — shows wisdom and maturity beyond Bjornson’s tender years.
And that — as much as Bjornson’s 110-yard drives, as much as the 36 he recently shot on a nine-hole loop, as much as the tournament he recently won in Minneapolis that qualified him to play in next month’s US Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst — is why some people who should know say this Bjornson kid just might yet be something very special.
Take Ingram, for instance. On Thursday, Ingram was teeing off for the opening round at Pine Ridge as one of the Manitoba hopes in the 2009 Players Cup. But more than a golfer, Ingram is internationally respected as a golf teacher. He’s twice been named the Canadian PGA Teacher of the Year, has been named one of the 10 best golf coaches in Canada by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine and was named in the Top 50 in North America by Golf Range Magazine.
Dude knows his golf, in other words. And Ingram says this Bjornson kid is something special. “He’s really good. It’s pretty crazy how good he is,” says Ingram, who has been coaching Bjornson this year. “Part of it is athleticism. But he’s also got a super-high golf IQ for a kid.”
And there’s something else Bjornson has, says Ingram, perhaps the most important thing of all — a parent who is supportive, but not pushy. “This is not one of those cases you see where the Dad is pushing him into this,” says Ingram. “This really does come from Bailey.”
His father, Tyler Bjornson, first introduced his son to golf at age two (the kid holed his first shot using a ‘Snoopy’ iron). And since then, whether it’s playing a round at local courses like Kingswood or hacking away on ranges or in the backyard, the elder Bjornson has been by his son’s side and holding his hand at every step.
“What I’m here to do is provide him the opportunity,” says Tyler Bjornson, “and to keep it fun.”
And, as he ponders the cross-continent trip the family will make next month to watch his son play at the golfing mecca of Pinehurst, to also keep it in perspective. “He tells us he wants to be a pro golfer when he grows up,” says the father, “but then he also told us when he was 3 that he wanted to be Spiderman.
“So who knows?”
What I know is this: Asked this week what his favourite part of golf is, what the thing that he most enjoyed about the game is and Bjornson didn’t hesitate a moment in his response.
“That I get to spend time with my Dad.”
Which is, interestingly enough, exactly what Tiger has said over the years about his golf game and the way it brought him and Earl Woods closer together.
It’s highly improbable, of course, that Bjornson will ever duplicate the success of Woods on a golf course. But off of it — where it really matters most — the kid and his dad already seem well on their way.
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