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Cole Ponich on course for big things

The best golfer in Park City might be less than three feet tall.

OK that might be an exaggeration, but eight-year-old Cole Ponich may soon be knocking on that door. The Jeremy Ranch soon-to-be second grader spent the last few weeks winning the Utah Junior World Golf Championship qualifier and taking second place at U.S. Kids Junior World Championship qualifier, both at the Eagle Lake Golf Course in Roy.

Cole’s prodigious rise to the top of the leaderboard actually started in infancy. His father, Tom, would give his mother, Becky, a break from taking care of baby Cole by taking him to the driving range every evening. Tom would hit balls for an hour or two while Cole would quietly sit in his car seat watching his dad.

the time Cole could walk, his parents had bought him a tiny club, which he would swing in the living room. By 14 months, Cole had graduated to a bigger club and continued to get better and better at his swing. By age two, he was sending clean shots into the air. Three years ago, the family made the move from San Diego, Calif., to Park City and Cole entered his first tournament. At the time, the Utah Junior Golf Association (UJGA) only had 10-and-under tournaments so Cole competed against kids practically twice his size, a factor that didn’t seem to phase the kindergartner.

"He loved playing in those tournaments," said Tom.

Cole continued to play in tournaments. By the next year, Cole won the U.S. Kids World Championships Qualifier in the six-year-old division. The win earned him a spot at the Championship tournament in Pinehurst, N.C. Cole celebrated his seventh birthday before the event took place and competed in the seven-year-old division. Out of 500 competitors, Cole finished about 200th.

This year, Cole announced to his parents that he wanted to play more tournaments and entered a number of qualifying junior events. Although Cole took second in that qualifier this year, he will most like be invited back to Pinehurst. The winner of the event was actually from Montana, because there is no qualifier in that state, so Cole will most likely receive a bid because he was last year’s winner, is from the state of Utah and met the tournament qualifying score by shooting a 45. It was a good day for Cole. It was his birthday, June 23, and he almost shot a hole-in-one on what he said was his favorite hole.

His win at the Utah Junior World Golf qualifier event earned him a "for-sure" spot at the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego, Calif. There will be 45 countries, 50 states and surrounding territories represented at the event and Cole will represent Utah and Jeremy Golf and Country Club for the 7 and 8 boys’ division.

Right now, Cole isn’t exactly hitting from the men’s championship tees, but he doing well from his age group’s shorter distance. In fact, he even does well from longer distances. On Wednesday night, he beat his mother shooting from the women’s tees. He still has his eye on beating his father from the men’s tees a feat that Cole promises is only two years off.

"I try to beat Papa the most," Cole said.

Tom actually admits that, proportionately, his son has actually probably beat him a time or two.

The family tries to golf together at least three or four times a week, taking Cole and his younger sister out for some quality time together. Tom says it something that the family loves to do together.

Cole seems to love anything that involves golf. When he isn’t out with his family, he is participating in a junior golf clinic or working on his game with his dad. Tom and Becky say they never force their son to play he just always wants to do it.

"We’re not that kind of parents," Tom said.

In fact, on a normal day, Cole will beg his mother to leave him at the driving range to shoot balls by himself for an hour or he’ll ask her to play a round with him.

It’s this love for the game that has allowed Cole to get better so rapidly. This year, Tom said that he has added a number of other beneficial aspects to his game.

"This year, he’s focusing much better," Tom said. "Now he’s understanding the mental dynamics of the game."

According to Jeff Brekke, an assistant in the pro shop at the Jeremy Ranch Golf Club, Cole has all the tools that make for a great golfer, a rarity in most people, let alone children.

"He is quite a golfer," said. "His consistency is unheard of at a young age. He’s got a very good knowledge for the golf game at a young age He’s got the x-factor"

He is also the Jeremy Golf and Country Club Junior Club Champion two years running in the 9-and-under division.

That doesn’t mean that Cole doesn’t have the usual adult competitiveness and self-loathing when he messes up, but his strong physical skills keep him from too much worry.

"Sometimes I worry how I am going to do and I try too hard," he admits.

Besides having a great swing, Cole also has a strong short game, something that he said makes tournament play very fun.

"All the boys can’t do so well in their short game," he said. "The boys I play with do better on their long game."

Cole has three more weeks before he heads to San Diego for the Callaway tournament in San Diego July 15-18 and he says he is going to try and rest and practice as much as he can before the event. At Pinehurst last year, Cole said that many of the kids arrived a month before the tournament to prepare, and he wants to be ready for his national tournaments this year.

"The greens are much faster than the ones here," he said.

Cole hopes to play golf for the rest of his life. He looks up to Tiger Woods and hopes to play as a professional golfer one day. He also has other interests, including playing with his friends and baseball. But right now, Cole is totally focused to take his three foot frame as far in the golf world as it will take him.


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