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The Cobra and Tiger

Submitted by on Saturday, 27 June 2009No Comment
The Cobra and Tiger

South African golfer James Kamte recalls playing with the world No 1, and looks back on his days as a caddie

Q:        You recently played nine holes with Tiger Woods at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course – tell me about that.

A:         Well the stupid thing was that in the beginning I was so nervous I nearly refused. But fortunately I calmed down and realised I won’t often get that sort of a chance. So I played and I actually played pretty well. It was the most wonderful experience.

Q:        What was the best part?

A:         To see how Tiger approaches the game – how he plays specific holes and I supposed just playing with him and having that time together was a huge privilege. I mean to get to spend that time with the World’s greatest golfer can only be good for me.

Q:        You were invited by Jack Nicklaus to play at the Memorial Tournament where interestingly, Tiger won and you never made the cut. What do you remember about your first tournament on the US circuit?

A:         It was a bit overwhelming. There were so many people there and I had a huge case of nerves. I was just so nervous all week – I couldn’t shake it. But I suppose every golfer goes through that at some stage and I just have to learn from it. I’ve got to get to the point where I feel comfortable on the course so I can play my game the way I know I can – although that is probably the hardest thing about golf. In practice I can hit just about any shot any where I want it – but I get into a tournament and the pressure starts making strange things happen.

Q:        You qualified to play in the US Open – how did you do that?

A:         I had to go through 36 holes of qualifying in Columbus Ohio a couple of weeks ago.

Q:        How did you do in the Open?

A:         At one stage I was +4 and Tiger was +5 which was quite exciting. But then we got caught up in the rain and that terrible weather and unfortunately I never made the cut. But it was simply the most amazing experience. Something I will always remember.

Q:        What are your immediate golf plans?

A:         Well I have moved to the US for the moment – this is where I want to be – in America. I want to play the PGA Tour. I previously played the Asian Tour and I know I could win again if I go back there, but I think this is the way forward.

Q:        You won the Asian Tour International in Bangkok – tell me about that?

A:         To win my first tournament as a rookie on the Asian Tour was really a dream come true. I held off Tetsuji Hiratsuka of Japan to win by two strokes. The best part was that I only qualified for the Asian Tour by coming fourth at the tour school, in January.

Q:        Where did you grow up?

A:         I grew up in the Eastern Cape in a small town called Humansdorp. So I am not a big city boy (laughs).

Q:        Where did you go to school?

A:         I went to primary school in Humansdorp and then I finished school at Woodridge.

Q:        And when did you start playing golf?

A:         At school I played the normal sports like soccer, rugby and cricket. I also did athletics. My favourite was soccer; that’s where my nickname, ‘Cobra’ comes from; I was a lethal striker (laughs).  With regards to golf I started caddying around about then. Then when sometimes my friends would go and play golf, I would join them. Gradually you know how it is. I hit a few balls and most of them didn’t go where I thought I had hit them – so I hit some more.

Q:        Did you have a noticeable aptitude for it?

A:         No, at first I didn’t like it at all.

Q:        Why was that?

A:         Because every time I had to play football on a weekend, there would be a golf tournament and I would have to caddy. And then during the week when I had nothing to do, there were no golf tournaments. Then I met Dom, who became my best friend and he encouraged me to play golf. If it wasn’t for him – I would never have played seriously. Then he told his dad, Alberto Fogolin about my golf and he thought I was a natural and encouraged me and gave me unbelievable support. Now I’m part of their family, Dom’s dad is my dad and I now live with them when I’m in the country.

Q:        How did you feel about the guys you caddied for?

A:         Well I was just a kid, so when I gave advice they would say ‘What do you know?’ Until one day a guy said, ‘If you know so much, why don’t you hit the ball?’ So I hit one, and then he said hit another and I did. After that he wouldn’t stop asking me for advice. In the end I think he would have liked it if I could have joined his 4 ball and played with him instead of carrying his bag. But I preferred caddying for the guys who could play, because they appreciated it if you gave them good advice. I think I could read the greens well, which helped the good guys.

Q:        Do you listen to your caddie now?

A:         Only if he speaks sense; but in the end I have to make up my own mind. It’s not fair to put all the responsibility on the caddie. He can only tell me what he thinks. But because I have to make the shot I have to be perfectly clear in my own head what I’m trying to do.

Q:        Did you ever have any coaching?

A:         Yes. In the beginning it’s easy to think you are hot, but once you come up against the guys who can really play, it’s a serious wake up call. So Gavan Levenson coached me and I improved hugely. But I don’t have a coach at the moment. Overall though, I am self-taught.

Q:        What is the best advice you have received when it comes to golf?

A:         I think just enjoy yourself. If you are relaxed and having fun you’ll play better. I mean I watched Tiger and he really enjoys himself. After all the golf he has played, he still enjoys it. I watched him hit a terrible tee shot, it was bad – and he just walked off smiling.

Q:        Who were your golfing heroes when you started?

A:         I didn’t have any. At school, when I was in matric, I used to hit the ball across the soccer fields. So everyone started calling me Tiger Woods. The funny thing was at that time I never knew who they were talking about. It was only in about 2000 that I started finding out who the golf stars were.

Q:        When did you first meet Tiger?

A:         I was at the driving range during a tournament and I was hitting balls. The range was full of the pros when Tiger arrived and saw a gap behind me. So he put his stuff down there and waited for me to finish. After a while my caddy leant over and said, ‘You know Tiger has watched your last eight shots.’

Q:        How did you feel about that?

A:         Well I started shaking. I thought if I can hit my last four balls it will be a miracle. I said to my caddy, “I’d better stop before I shank one.” Fortunately I didn’t, then I packed up and as I passed Tiger he said, ‘Hey man, you can really hit the ball.’ I said, ‘Thank you – but not as good as you’. Later in the tournament he invited me and some other players back to his suite for a drink. He actually took my phone number, but he has never phoned me (laughs). Mind you he played with me so I can hardly complain.

Q:        By all accounts you out-drive Tiger?

A:         I drive about as far as he does, I think. On a good day I hit the ball about 360m; around there. I rarely use my low clubs like 6, 5, and 4. They don’t do much work (laughs).

Q:        January seems to be a good month for you?

A:         Yes – last year in January I won the Dimension Data Pro-am, which was lovely. I came back to defend my title, but unfortunately I came second. Dean Pappas played out of his shoes – I shot something like -14 and he shot in the region of -20. But I really enjoyed  it – I had a lot of fun. I also enjoy playing with the amateurs because they talk to you and everyone is a lot more relaxed. You don’t have any of that on the professional circuit; it is very serious.

Q:        Do you know most of the South African players?

A:         Most of them; when I see them at tournaments in Europe they always come over and talk to me. After my win in Asia they all congratulated me. Ernie (Els), Retief (Goosen), and Trevor (Immelmann) – in fact when I was England, Ernie invited me around to his house.

Q:        How does the travel, which is fundamentally a new part of your life, affect you?

A:         The hardest apart is the time change between countries. Sometimes when I phone Dom and I ask him what he is doing, and he says he is going to school while my day is nearly finished. I find that hard to get my mind around. Obviously it’s a fact of life, but it gets to me. Like when I’m in Asia and it is bedtime, but at home it is early afternoon – I don’t sleep. My body seems to stick to the home clock.

Q:        How do you find the difference in food – especially when you are in Asia?

A:         They have the most wonderfully healthy food. I love it; lots of green stuff. In the States you have to avoid the junk food and be a bit more fussy and disciplined.

Q:        The huge amount of money that it is possible to win in golf; how does that affect your attitude to your game?

A:         I don’t think about it. I just worry about winning tournaments, and then deal with it afterwards. You have to assume it will come (laughs).

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