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Spirit International: As US reels from DQ, Korea gets midway lead
- Spirit Golf Association/Hugh Hargrave photo
- Spirit Golf Association/Hugh Hargrave photo

Republic of Korea Captain SangWon Ko holds an inspiring perspective on his team’s performance at The 2019 Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship. With a 36-hole score of 29-under-par 259, the Koreans hold a four-shot lead over France in the Combined International Championship after Korea shot a 15-under 129 in Friday’s second round at Whispering Pines Golf Club.

But Ko isn’t too interested in scores and positions on leaderboards – those aren’t the reasons he brought his team more than 6,800 miles from South Korea to Texas. Ko is much more focused on his players enjoying a positive experience and making new friendships this week at The Spirit. That’s the real point of this tournament, Ko said.

“This championship is different,” Ko said. “Of course, winning is important, but the experience is much more important. Sometimes winning can be forgotten. But experiences, like at this championship, can last forever. I keep telling my players to stay focused on playing instead of scoring or where is my position (on the leaderboard) or where is my team’s position or who is going to make a birdie. It doesn’t matter. Just go out and have fun.”

The strategy is working for Korea.

Led by 12-year-old Jeonghyun Lee, the Koreans played their final eight holes at 8-under par. Playing in her first international championship with her country’s national team, Lee leads the Women’s Individual Championship with 13 birdies. She made seven of them on Friday. Lee and her teammate Yoon Ina also lead the Women’s Championship at 17-under 127.

Four shots back of Korea the Combined International Championship is France, which held the 18-hole lead. The French team shot 9-under 135 in the second round, paced by Candice Mahe’s five birdies. Adrien Pendaries, a junior at Duke and the No. 1-ranked collegiate player in America, made four birdies on Friday. He’s tied for second place in the Men’s Individual Championship, three birdies behind Australia’s Jack Trent. Overall, France is 25-under at 263.

New Zealand sits in third place at 22-under 266. Norway and Sweden share fourth place at 21-under 267.

Team USA was disqualified from the Combined International Championship after the U.S. Women signed an incorrect scorecard following Thursday’s opening round. Americans Cole Hammer, the No. 3-ranked amateur in the world, and Andy Ogletree, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, are still competing in the Men’s Championship and Men’s Individual Championship competitions. The U.S. Women are not eligible for any of the competitions; however, they did play Friday.

Related: Shock DQ: USA Women's Team disqualified from Spirit International

“We first noticed something was off (on Thursday) when the live scoring showed me recording four instead of five birdies,” Team USA’s Kaitlyn Papp said. “So (team captain) Stacy (Lewis) went to go check it out to see what was going on. That’s when she learned about the scorecard error. Honestly it was a simple little mistake that resulted in a big consequence.”

In owning the mistake and self-reporting the infraction to the Rules officials, Lewis displayed the type of honesty and integrity on which the game of golf in general and The Spirit International specifically was founded.

“I’m just glad that Stacy caught it,” Team USA’s Emilia Migliaccio said. “We went out and wore our red, white and blue today and we're proud of it. We’re going to do the same thing tomorrow.”

Hammer and Ogletree currently are tied for second place at 13-under 131 in the Men’s Championship. Hammer birdied three of his final five holes to combine with Ogletree for a 7-under 65 in the second round. Team USA, along with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all trail Sweden’s Men by one shot headed into the final round.

“We’re going to try to go out there and get off to a good start tomorrow and get rolling from there,” Hammer said.

STOKING THE FLAMES

From The Spirit International’s beginnings, a torch has been an integral symbol of the unique amateur championship. Whispering Pines owner and founder Corby Robertson often talks about the uplifting atmosphere – “The Spirit” – that permeates all aspects of the golf club, the biennial competition and the East Texas property in general.

The Spirit Torch is an embodiment of Robertson’s vision. A torch is incorporated in the Spirit’s logo, and a smaller torch has been on display in Whispering Pines’ Camp Olympia since 2001.

Now a new Torch created by Larry Piasecki, the Director of Building Maintenance for Whispering Pines, has been created to further bolster the Spirit’s ever-present vibe.

Prior to the start of The 2019 Spirit International Paisecki’s team, which included two local vendors in nearby Trinity, produced a 12.8-foot stainless steel torch that was built and installed near Whispering Pines’ 18th green and international flag display. It all came together beautifully, and the Spirit Torch burns nonstop regardless of any weather elements. Two-time LPGA Major Champion Stacy Lewis – captain for the reigning Spirit champion Team USA – lit the Spirit Torch during the event’s Opening Ceremonies on Oct. 5. The propane-powered structure burns continuously during the week; the captain of this year’s winning team will extinguish the flame at Saturday’s Closing Ceremony.

“To see Corby’s vision come to life is so cool,” Piasecki said. “The torch is a major part of Whispering Pines. But we didn’t have a torch on this part of the property. For me to be able to make it, that was just awesome. But it took a team to make it happen. It wasn’t just me.”

GUNS UP

The Texas Tech Men’s Golf Team, ranked No. 3 nationally in Golfweek’s collegiate rankings, is well represented at The Spirit International. Five of the Red Raiders are playing this week at Whispering Pines, including Sandy Scott and Jamie Stewart for Scotland, Ivan Camilo Ramirez for Colombia, Adam Blomme for Sweden and Markus Braadlie for Norway.

Ramirez is tied for second place in the Men’s Individual Championship with 11 total birdies through 36 holes. Scott, the fourth-ranked collegiate player in the U.S., is T22 in the Men’s Individual Championship with six birdies, including four in Thursday’s first round.

PLAYING CAPTAIN

Italy’s Caterina Don had a little more thrust upon her plate than she had planned once she arrived at Whispering Pines this week for The Spirit International. The freshman at Georgia got a text message from the Italian Golf Federation that informed her that she would be the team captain in addition to playing.

“I mean, it was a surprise,” she said. “They told me you’re going to be by yourself with your team.”

Don said she’s taking it in stride and enjoying the opportunity.

“I don’t feel like there’s a difference between playing captains and players,” she said. “As the captain, my biggest responsibility is probably just keeping everyone on a schedule, making sure everyone’s on time, not skipping anything and not messing around. We’re a pretty good team so we can do that together.”

ABOUT THE The Spirit International Amateur

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship is world class golf event played every other year. It features the world’s best amateur men and amateur women golfers as they represent their respective country in team and individual competitions. The 96 participants enjoy an Olympic-like experience from the Opening/Closing Ceremonies, international village and competing for gold medals.

The World Health & Golf Association and Texas Golf Association invite 24 countries from six continents to participate. Established in 2001, The Spirit is a biennial event that alternates tournament years with the World Amateur Team Championships.

Part of the uniqueness of the Spirit International are the five simultaneous competitions: Combined International Championship, Men’s Team Championship, Women’s Team Championship, Men’s Individual and Women’s Individual.

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