Ben Ross swings his driver and watches as his ball soars far down the right side of the first fairway at West Columbia’s Charwood Country Club.
“That should be pretty good, unless I hit it through the fairway,” the 19-year-old said.
Moments later, he watches as Odette Clemente, with instructor Brad Frick observing, hits her tee shot from the forward (women’s) tees. Ross merely shrugs when they arrive at their respective shots — and discover she has outdriven him.
“That’s where I’ve seen the most improvement, on her tee shots,” Ross said.
In the latest stage of Frick’s year-long project to turn Clemente, 21, from a novice to a single-digit handicap player, the former USC student is playing more rounds and spending less time on the range. As part of her development, it is no longer enough for her to pound practice balls, Frick said.
“Obviously, she can hit it,” Frick said. “Now I want her to see how to play the course, manage her game, how to escape trouble, hit different kinds of shots.”
That’s where Ross comes in.
The former Airport High student, who won Charleston’s Al Esposito Junior while in high school, played this spring for Limestone College. Ross has worked with Frick since he was 15 and has a summer job at the Par Tee Driving Range and Frick’s Palmetto Falls Mini-Golf on Charleston Highway.
Ross and Clemente have become friendly practice partners — “they’re closer in age than I am to either,” said Frick, 28 — and she seems more relaxed as she studies his shots and the process he uses to set up each.
Clemente hits better shots in part because she is becoming more familiar with her new clubs: Mizuno MX-19 irons, a Mizuno MX560 driver and an F60 4-wood. She also shows off a Wilson Pro Staff putter, which she picked up in a pro shop.
“It’s the first piece of golf equipment she bought for herself,” Frick said.
While her tee shots are more consistent and her putting is better, Clemente still struggles from 100 yards in. That shows up at the first hole: While Ross misses the green, chips and two-putts for bogey, she leaves her approach short and needs four more shots for a double bogey.
Frick, who in the past picked her clubs and helped her with alignment, now encourages her to make decisions. After her approach to the par-4 second hole comes up short, Clemente uses a 9-iron, rather than a lob wedge, to chip to within inches.
“If I hit the lob wedge bad, it comes up way short,” she said. “The 9-iron still gets up there.”
Throughout the nine-hole practice session — Ross posts two birdies and shoots even par; Clemente makes a couple of pars, some bogeys and a few doubles — Frick has her go through a pre-shot routine each time, prompting her by asking what she wants to do.
At the par-5 eighth hole, she hits right and the ball is sitting on pine bark mulch.
“What do you think? The caddie (Frick) is going to stay out of it,” Frick said.
Her low punch shot winds up near the green, but above the hole on a steep incline, and Clemente makes a triple-bogey 8, her worst hole of the day.
“Her touch and short game is the biggest part,” Ross said afterward. “To me, she overthinks shots, which I guess figures; she’s still pretty new to the game.”
Clemente nodded in agreement.
“Every time, (Ross) tells me I think too much. He says, ‘Take a practice swing, then hit it.’”
Her game is a month from its first big test. During an appearance on WNKT-FM, aka 107.5 The Game, Clemente was challenged to a nine-hole match by the station’s Benji Norton and co-host Bob Shields of WLTX-TV. The date is July 18, the location to be determined.
This is the seventh month of the Odette project, and “when we started (in December), I had no idea where we’d be by now,” Frick said. “I thought we’d be farther along — but that’s golf.”
“When I started, it took me a year to break 100,” he said. His ambitions for Clemente are, obviously, more ambitious.
Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.