Move over Tiger Woods

  • 2000-08-31
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Nerves of steel were on display last week in Riga over the four-day European Mini Golf Championships, a tournament far more serious than one would expect.

There were two courses, one hard court and one concrete, with 36 holes altogether. The level of difficulty varied a lot, from the ones which were made in a single shot to those only God knows how to ace.

The German team were set to win, or else.

They brought seven male players, four women, substitutes, a small army of coaches, their own cook and a physiotherapist. The all so precious balls, some 2000 of them, were kept in temperature regulating briefcases.

Swedish female player Karin Wiklund, who ended in fourth place, said all serious teams keep their balls temperature regulated.

"Everyone can hit a ball, but a bad ball can put you back many strokes," Wiklund said.

The Germans did win big. Their men's team won, their women's team won, they grabbed all medals in the women's individual competition and caught a bronze in the men's individual. The two first places in the men's were grabbed by Swedish players Carl-Johan Ryner and Jan Strandberg.

German Bianca Zodrow won convincingly. Her technique proved to be a winning one. She would line up her shot, put her feet wide apart and then clench her club like a contortionist. Her swing resembled a golf swing in slow-motion.

German coaches came to Latvia for two weeks in May to photograph the course and calculate the proper angle and speed for each hole. When the players arrived, each knew how they would play every hole.

"They (the German coaches) just tell the player where to hit the ball and how hard, in order to finish a lane in one shot," one player said. "The players have no free will. They do what the coaches tell them to."

The Latvian men's team ended up in 11th place, beating only Estonia. Uldis Kaufmanis was the best individual Latvian player. He finished 64th.

Verners Kirss, tournament sport director, said he has been playing mini golf since it first appeared in Latvia in 1991.

"It has been a very good experience for me," Kirss said. "Next year we plan to participate with full teams in the men's and the women's competition."

Only one player represented Great Britain, Andy Miller, who came dead last in the competition in 87th place. Still, he was reported to walk away with a smile on his face.

"I just don't have the skill," Miller said.

In regular golfing, finding the perfect swing could mean the difference between drinking wine in the country club house or sipping beer in a bar in the suburbs.

Piet Tiekstra, playing for the Dutch team, said everybody has their own swing, and that no one is perfect.

Tiekstra and one of his teammates were relaxing with a few beers after three hard days of miniature golf. All 36 holes had been finished several times, and the team ended in sixth place overall.

Tiekstra didn't think it had anything to do with not warming up enough before putting.

"We start one hour before with playing some lanes," Tiekstra said. "Some players run and stretch but the best players don't have to."

The rules are very simple - just get the ball in the hole, using as few putts as possible.

The lanes differ in difficulty. Some of them have a very simple outline, where the ball will go in the hole if one can get it to certain place, like into a maze or a pipe. Some courses look as if they need divine intervention for a hole-in-one, which of course is the ultimate. One Austrian player was reported to have finished one course of 18 holes in just as many putts.

Swedish player, Johan Dyfvelsten, said it's not so much about the perfect putt as it is about the perfect feeling.

"It's more about feeling that you cannot miss," Dyfvels-ten said. "Then nothing can hold you back."

The audience following the event reminded of tennis spectators. Everyone was quiet until the ball went in the hole. Players would get upset if a sudden outburst broke their concentration. If it was a hole-in-one on a difficult lane, the cheers would rise a bit, and then go back to silence.

Players showed their discontent with frowning faces and an occasional sigh. Only one player lost his cool completely, kicking a water bottle and throwing his putter.

Next year the World Championship will be battled out on Finnish soil in Wasa.