Junior proves golf is more than birdies and bogeys

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REUNION, Fla. ' In the world of competitive junior golf, the American Junior Golf Association is where the best players come to compete. Its where Tiger Woods learned the fist pump and Paula Creamer became known as the Pink Panther. Its where scorecards bleed red ink, and girls hit it 280 yards. Since its inception in 1978 the AJGA has given kids the platform to say: Hello, World.
 
One player who has said Hello, World both as a golfer and a person is Pontus Widegren, winner of the 2008 AJGA Jerry Cole Sportsmanship Award. The award is given out annually to an AJGA member who promotes integrity and sportsmanship in golf. Most importantly, the award serves as a reminder to its members that its simply not enough to possess golf talent. Aspiring collegiate golfers, and future PGA and LPGA pros are reminded that qualities of high character will get you even further.
 
pontus widegren
Sweden's Pontus Widegren has made an impact in the U.S. (AJGA)
Widegren, 18, is your typical Swedish teenager: blonde, extremely polite, and dressed head-to-toe in his countrys blue and yellow. He could be described as quiet, though his demeanor is more confident than anti-social. Hes lived in Stockholm his whole life, and began playing competitive golf when he was 12. Athletic in nature, Widegren quickly realized he possessed a special talent for golf, so he stopped playing tennis and hockey. In 2005 he was invited to play in the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior. It was his first visit to the U.S.
 
The Thunderbird event was my best experience, by far, he said. I was amazed by the tough setup and condition of the course. During my first round I saw [current USC junior] Jamie Lovemark make the turn at five-under. I remember thinking, I didnt know it was possible to shoot that low. It was a great learning experience for me.
 
As he continued to impress at junior golfs highest level, Widegren showed even more aptitude as a person of high character. While competing in the 2007 AJGA Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Widegren connected with his groups standard bearer, a 12-year-old boy from North Florida. I could tell he really looked up to us as players, Widegren said. When I was his age, I really admired and appreciated the opportunity to be around older golfers who were better than me. They motivated me to get better. I could see the same in him.
 
After one of his rounds, Widegren spent significant time with his new friend on the practice range. I just looked at his swing and gave him a few tips, he said. I knew if I were in his position, it would mean a lot to me to have an older player show interest in my development.
 
A current member of the Swedish National Team, Widegren has enjoyed continued success on the AJGA circuit despite the fact that he has to travel upwards of 5,000 miles to compete. His career highlights include three top-five finishes, including a second-place finish at the 2008 Junior Players. In addition to AJGA events, his affiliation with the Swedish National Team has allowed Widegren the opportunity to travel to four continents. The travel, he admits, can take its toll. This year, Im missing 65 days of school and am spending 120 nights away from home, he said. I usually travel by myself or with the team, so I dont get much time with my family.
 
Widegrens worldly travels are evidence of the AJGAs mission to provide the best-possible competition for junior golfers from all corners of the globe. Many top AJGA events reserve a certain number of spots for international exemptions, and partnerships with other national golf associations are forged in order to give credence to its performance-based entry system, which makes AJGA tournaments more accessible to international players.
 
Rob Jansen, vice president of player services at the AJGA says Widegren is proof that the AJGAs mission is working. The fact that he was able to make such an impression playing in only three events this season speaks volumes of his character, he said. He is a good example of how the AJGA mission extends outside of the United States.
 
Widegren signed a letter of intent with UCLA, where hell begin next fall. Though hes already achieved a lot, he admits he has a long way to go. After UCLA, I want to play professionally and win majors. But as a lesson to the next junior out there who wants to someday say, Hello, World, Widegren is pragmatic. Dont worry about goals, he said. Work hard. The results will come.