Sports

One year, one goal

Before last Tuesday, Odette Clemente had no idea who Ben Hogan was.

Vijay Singh? "I've heard of him ...... I think," she said hesitantly. Tiger Woods? OK, she knows Tiger. Brad Frick smiled. If ever a golf instructor faced a Professor Henry Higgins-Eliza Doolittle type challenge, this is it.

On a brisk December morning, the two sat at a folding table at West Columbia's Par Tee Driving Range as Frick pointed out on his laptop a Webcam's digitally recorded flaws, and successes, in her golf swing.

"See how the ball is flying low here?" he said of a series of chip shots. "That's good extension. Your stance is too open, but otherthan that, it looks good."

Clemente nodded. Her first step in a yearlong road to learning golf was off to a good start.

This time next year, Frick believes, Clemente -- whose prior golf experience consisted of nine holes with a friend and 18 holes a week earlier with Frick -- can be close to a par golfer. That is the plan behind his to offer her a year's worth of one-on-one instruction -- for free.

It is a process The State will follow for the next year, reporting monthly on Clemente's progress toward her goals. Which are?

"I'd like to get good enough to play in tournaments," the 21-yearold USC student said. "And to play with my stepdad."

Frick, 27, former assistant professional at the Country Club at Woodcreek Farms, has goals, too. He figures a "My Fair Lady"- style transformation of Clemente from novice to accomplished player will promote his fledgling instruction business at Par Tee and Palmetto Falls Mini-Golf on Charleston Highway.

Frick said he also wants to advance girls junior golf, using Clemente as a role model.

"I grew up with four sisters; I know all about playing with Barbie," he said. "If she has success, it'll also be (satisfying) knowing I had a part in it."

He realizes the process will not happen overnight. At Woodcreek Farms last week, Clemente displayed good distance off the tee, wild inconsistency with her irons and zero putting touch.

Her first 18-hole round? "It was ...... interesting," she said. "It was fun, though."

Clemente has the athleticism if not the golf experience. She was a basketball and soccer standout for Greenville's Eastside High before a knee injury during her senior year ended a hoped-for scholarship to Coastal Carolina.

She enrolled at USC, using club soccer at the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center fields as an outlet. This fall, Clemente enrolled in a physical-education class that included a half-semester golf segment.

Frick, the class' instructor, said that of his 15 students, "she had the most potential. They say in golf, you've either got it or you don't. A great swing is something you can't teach."

When he offered her the deal, "I was pretty excited," Clemente said. "I had messed around with golf, chipping with a neighbor's club in the front yard.

"My friend Audrey Church (who plays golf at USC Upstate) took me out for nine holes once. She said to me, 'You've never played?' But at that time, I was into the other sports."

Frick understands. The Swansea native played football and baseball before he also sustained a knee injury. He attended USC and Myrtle Beach's Golf Academy of the Carolinas; married with a child, he also ran an ice cream and coffee shop.

From 2002-05, Frick worked at WildeWood and Woodcreek, returned briefly to USC, then in March joined Par Tee owner Dan Gensamer, his golf instructor as a youngster. Frick was looking for a "test case" for his teaching when Clemente showed up in his class.

"She has a one-plane swing, which is what I teach," he said. "I figured with some tweaks, we can make her better."

Their yearlong mission to do that starts now.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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