Two Red Deer golfers will embark on the journey of a lifetime this summer.
While most kids are just comfortably settling into riding a bike or picking up their favourite video game on summer vacation, Bennett Love, 8, and Eileen Park, 10, are set to golf against the best kids in the world.
The local duo will compete at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in Pinehurst, North Carolina in August. They each won qualifying tournaments earlier this year and will represent Canada at the event.
Love and Park are coached by Luke Rundell at Meadowlands Golf Club in Sylvan Lake and Rundell said they have each shown an ability to focus on the course that’s well beyond their years.
“The ability to flick a switch and get in the zone. Me and Bennett had a conversation after his first win about how everything felt calm and effortless while he was out there,” Rundell said.
“That’s kind of the zone we try and hit… their ability to do it at this age is next level and it’s not always there every time we go to the course. Their ability to do it more times than not is pretty cool.”
Park has some experience on the big stage, as she competed at worlds last year, as well as the IMG Academy Junior World Championships in San Diego. For three of her four rounds at worlds for her age group in 2018, Park was the lowest Canadian and finished as the second low Canadian overall.
“We’re just looking to build on that and skill wise, throughout the winter (she) developed and (her) distance has gone up. Ability to move the ball and control the ball has gone up. What I noticed at the start of this year, is how good her putting is,” Rundell said.
“I’m hoping with those gains, low Canadian would be a really good goal… I’m not going to be too hung up on the results, I want them to enjoy the experience.”
She got her start in the game around the age of five but remembers carrying around a plastic set and following her dad at the course in Kelowna. Park and her family moved to Red Deer in 2015, that’s when they discovered Rundell.
Love, who picked up a golf club when he was just 19 months old, has been working with Rundell for just over a year. He already has a couple wins this summer and continues to build on that momentum each time out.
“The development we made in one year is huge… We set some goals in the winter, those goals were to win a tournament and do some qualifiers,” Rundell said.
“We’re only three tournaments in and we’ve basically reached all our goals, which is pretty cool. Now it’s trying to stay focused on the rest of the season and keep that progression going.”
Love said he loves being able to visualize hitting a good shot, then going out and executing it on the course. He practices every day, plays three times a week and said the biggest improvement in his game needs to be his short game.
The youngster said he’s nervous about competing against the best players in the world, but his coach had some simple advice.
“For this one, I just want him to have fun and we’ll learn our lessons as they pop up. Just stay in a good mindset and have a good attitude and enjoy it,” Rundell added.
The two young prodigies obviously still have a lot to learn both experience and skill wise. Still, their coach has been impressed by how fast they improve from day-to-day.
Rundell added that beyond a good grasp of the basic skills, their mental approach continues to impress and grow at such a young age.
“It’s the ability to continue progressing. Even when we hit a little setback, we kinda comeback pretty strong and they continue to get better and continue to push the bar,” he said.
“The way I describe it with some kids is they reach a plateau and they peak or drop off. Every time (Love and Park) handle a little bit of adversity or a setback, the gains from it are substantial. They keep pushing the level of play.”
Both Park and Love picked up wins at the Maple Leaf Junior Golf Mini-Tour Event in Red Deer earlier this month.
The two families will also host a bottle drive at Crossroads Church on June 22 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m to help support the trip to North Carolina. Anyone looking for more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 403.396.7968.