Nambian Golfers Tee Off on Sand Dunes
Aspirant young golfer Johnny Stiebel and his friends have fashioned an 18-hole course out of the golden red sand dunes that lie along Namibia's desert coastline, right outside their back doors.
The men are part of a development program at the Walvis Bay Golf Club, a misty port city where the desert meets the sea.
They work as caddies and get formal coaching as part of the club's mission to encourage the area's disadvantaged black youth to play sports.
When they get home they send sand flying with their practice swings on the dunes behind the township of Kuisebmond.
'It is harder to play on sand like this but it makes me a better player,' Stiebel said.
When the 21-year-old started caddying in 2002, he knew nothing about golf. Now he is the rising star of the program with a handicap of six.
'It is a way to stay out of trouble. Golf can take me somewhere. I would like to play professionally,' he said.
Nico Oberholzer, chairman of the Walvis Bay Golf Club, said the program, which has been going for four years with irregular sponsorship, has uncovered some excellent talent. Stanley Gawanab, 27, who is ranked fifth in Namibia, is one of their products.
'The raw talent is there. Their skills just need to be developed,' Oberholzer said.
But for Oberholzer the program is about much more than golf -- it is about giving the young men hope.
'It's not that we expect them to become professional golfers but they are winning competitions and they have a sense of achievement. That pride in themselves and the recognition they get is the main thing,' he said.
Oberholzer said the youngster's homemade 'greens' proved 'that where there is a will there is a way.'
The young players come from a poor community where there are few jobs or opportunities. The course they have mapped out is testament to their resourcefulness and love of the game.
They play with donated clubs and don't always have a full set. They play in sneakers or sandals with second hand gloves. Their carefully guarded balls are those they have found on the Walvis Bay course.
The holes are marked with rocks, they use a stick with an upturned plastic bottle as a flag and their scorecard is a piece of torn-off cardboard.
But for them it could be Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, and they could be teeing off with Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros or Ernie Els.
'We named it Sun City,' said Manfred Geinub, referring to the famous South African course. 'It's all about dunes and the sun. It's challenging because you play under extreme circumstances.'
Geinub, whose 5-year-old son, Bobby, is already swinging a shortened club, explained that he and his friends decided to use the knowledge they had gained to design the course.
'We watch a lot of golf on TV and looked in some books,' he said.
Walking across the sand, clubs in hand, the players are quite a sight from the highway into Walvis Bay and have attracted the attention of passers-by. One was Joe Nawanga, a pioneering black Namibian pro golfer.
Samuel Kamitwata, 25, said one day Nawanga stopped his car and came to play a few rounds.
'He helped me with my grip. He shook our hands and said we must keep it up. It was great that this guy who is pro stopped to talk to us. I makes me happy,' he said.
A role model closer to home is Gawanab, quietly going about a round with other members on the silty soil of the Walvis Bay course beneath flying pelicans.
Gawanab, the youngest and only black person in the country's top five, wanted, like many other young African men, to be a soccer player. Instead, he found what he calls a gentleman's game.
'Golf has changed my life. It was my hope to play for my country,' he said.
Through the club he found a job in a woodworking factory, where the boss understands the demands of his sport.
'It would have been a different life for me. When I went on to the rank list, I stopped drinking and smoking,' he said.
Like Stiebel and his friends, Gawanab also started out practicing on the dunes.
'But we had nothing,' he said. 'For clubs we would weld water pipes together. These guys are lucky.'
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.