Right after he shot 32 on the front nine at Eisenhower Park's Blue Course Monday afternoon, North Chery gave full credit to his caddie. "He was good," Chery said, "measuring the yards and telling me what clubs to use."
That gracious sentiment ensured a happy ride home to Monroe, Connecticut, because the golfer's caddie was doing the driving. Chery is 6 years old and his caddie in the Long Island U.S. Kids Golf tour stop was his father, Jean, who is mystified that his son can shoot 32.
"It was completely by accident because I wasn't much of a golfer. He just picked up a plastic golf set and was hitting balls in the backyard," Jean said. "Then I brought him mini-golfing and he made two holes-in-one the first time and I was like, 'Wait a second, there's something going on here.' "
Younger players in the U.S. Kids program played a nine-hole course that was scaled way down to 1,100 yards, with tee boxes placed in the middle of fairways. Still, a 32 is a 32. And on the 140-yard second hole, North nearly drove the green.
He wasn't the only one. Seven-year-old Dean Muratore of Dix Hills won his age group with a 38, which augurs well for his trip to the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, North Carolina, later this month -- a distinction he earned by winning his division on Long Island in last summer's tour. "It's a fun game. There's a lot of experience and when you have good shots you're happy, when you have bad shots you're not very happy," said the golfer whose dad, Jack, was on the bag. "He was great. He gave me all the right clubs."
It is good news for the stagnant golf industry that U.S. Kids is just one of several youth circuits around here. The Met PGA runs a successful summer program, as does Smithtown Landing. All spring, there was a Saturday evening league at several Long Island clubs.
Competition gives enough structure to make golf interesting. On Monday, there were two rules episodes that resulted in penalties, yet the mood was light. Inevitably, pretty much everyone got a medal.
"It's fun to watch. You get to see them taking out a club, saying, 'Dad, let me hit this one.' Then they put it close and make a birdie putt," said Alex Keener of Bethpage, a veteran of a varsity high school golf season as a seventh grader, who carried his own clubs and won the boys 13-year-old division Monday. He shot 79 for 18 holes from regulation tees on Eisenhower White, tuning up for Pinehurst No. 9.
What sets U.S. Kids Golf apart is the option to use caddies. That can be a slippery slope, what with the potential for too much interference. "This is a special time they get to share with their children, they're helping them learn how to play," said Sharon McQuillan, the White Plains-based teaching pro who runs the Long Island tour. "This is a great way to get them into it without throwing them out there by themselves."
Jack Muratore, who caddied for his 13-year-old son three times at Pinehurst, said, "The Met PGA doesn't have caddies and it works really well. They do an awesome job. At the same time, this organization does a good job because it's instructional. There are a lot of nice families out here."
And a lot of understanding caddies, such as Steve Bason of Hicksville, who shrugged when his son Brian, 7, classified his work as "terrible" for suggesting he use a tee on a par-3. "He takes pleasure in being independent," the dad said.
Parents take pleasure in needling, as one did, asking out loud: "Aren't the players supposed to buy dinner for the caddies?"