Sports

Course work begins for student

Her drive off the first tee at Charwood Country Club in West Columbia cuts a high, right-to-left arc into the left side of the fairway, and Odette Clemente smiles.

This, after all, is what all those hours of drills on driving ranges and around chipping greens have been about.

In the fifth month of her year-long project to go from golf novice to single-digit handicap player, the soon-to-be-graduated USC senior has made a giant step in April, just in time for "golf weather": She and instructor Brad Frick are taking her game, more and more, to the course.

Until now, their work has focused on fundamentals, on honing what Frick calls her "natural swing" and teaching her various parts of a complete game. She has played the occasional 9-hole round, but now Frick wants her work to be "70 percent play, 30 percent practice."

And Clemente, 21, is learning that doing it on the range and putting together various types of shots to post a score are not the same. There have been successes, though.

"Last Sunday at Hidden Valley (Country Club, near Gaston), she shot a 44 - with a birdie," Frick said. The birdie came at Hidden Valley's downhill par-3 17th hole, where she made a putt of about 40 feet, he said.

"I felt fine," Clemente said. "I didn't take much time over shots, just did what I needed to and hit it."

But Charwood's Blue course, measuring 2,616 yards from the gold tees, is a different challenge. Not as long as Hidden Valley, it has small, mounded greens that are difficult to hit and hold - as Clemente discovers.

She pulls her sand wedge approach shot left at No. 1. Attempting to pitch onto the green, she comes up short and watches as the ball rolls back down the slope. Another pitch and two putts later, a potential par is a double-bogey 6.

And so it goes; in her 9-hole score of 56 are 25 putts. By comparison, at the Masters, Tiger Woods "struggled" averaging 30 putts per 18-hole round.

"Touch, touch, touch," Frick said. "That's where she needs to work, on chipping and putting; she hasn't had time with school to do that. She's comfortable at the (Palmetto Falls Mini-Golf on Charleston Highway, where Frick works), but from long distance, she still needs work."

Clemente's tee-to-green game is markedly improved from her start in December. A new King Cobra driver is in her bag, fitted with a regular shaft, not a woman's shaft. During her round, Clemente pounds the ball off the tee, but struggles getting it into the cup.

She can put it all together, though. At the par-4 sixth hole, she pushes her drive right, but hits the green with her second shot. Two putts - the second a solid 10-footer - and she has the day's first par.

Frick also is teaching her to think her way around the course. At the uphill par-5 eighth, she slices a shot into trees. "What would you do here?" he asked. She elects to punch out to the fairway, the wise play.

Clemente believes her game will improve more quickly this summer. She has a part-time job at Charwood, and when summer arrives she'll work as a "cart girl" from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., leaving the rest of each day to practice and play.

And, Frick said, work on the mental side. "At Hidden Valley, I played one hole with her. Then she played the nine holes," he said. "She needs to figure it out for herself."

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

THE TEACHER AND THE STUDENT

BRAD FRICK

AGE: 28

OCCUPATION: Golf professional/instructor

HOMETOWN: Swansea

GOAL: To make Clemente into a single-digit handicap golfer by December

QUOTE: "When she practices now, I want her to make it more like playing, too. Don't hit the same club too many times in a row, pick targets rather than just hitting and establish her routine."

ODETTE CLEMENTE

AGE: 21

OCCUPATION: Criminal justice major, USC

HOMETOWN: Greenville

GOAL: To become a low-handicap player good enough to compete in tournaments

QUOTE: "(On her pre-shot routine) I take two practice swings (or putting strokes), then line up my feet to the target. I look at the target, then begin the backswing as I bring my head back down" to keep her head still and behind the ball.

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