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Like any golfer on the PGA Tour, Asher Katz likes to study a course the day before he plays it.
It’s a discipline the nine-year-old golf protege will carry with him at the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship where he will compete with the world’s best young golfers July 16 through July 21.
“I do a practice round where I take notes about what clubs to use and how the course shapes out,” Asher said. “Tournaments are good experience for me to interact with other golfers but it’s also good experience for me to figure out tough lies, whether they’re in the bushes or in the traps. And playing that practice round — just to see the greens — gives you confidence. You have to be able to play anywhere. Good or bad conditions.”
Asher first played golf when he was two years old. He started using real clubs when he was four, and started winning when he was seven.
Along the way, he’s met Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, and Tony Finau — professionals whom he emulates in his preparation and one day hopes to play aside.
“Asher’s favorite player, believe it or not, is Tiger Woods,” his mom, Nicole, said. “It’s incredible for someone not part of that generation to still idolize him.”
The Scotland Elementary School student also cheers for four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, the No. 1 ranked golfer. Koepka’s confidence in tournaments is something the young golfer tries to replicate on the course.
“Like any sport, there are so many good kids and the competition is increasing,” Nicole said, “but what really differentiates Asher is his confidence. He never gets down on himself and is able to get through bad holes and separate every shot. He doesn’t overthink anything — he lets each shot out of his mind, and he never looks up the score.”
“Yeah, I don’t add up the score until the end,” Asher adds. “You’re playing yourself and you’re playing the course. The score is just a number.”
The forget-about-the-scoreboard approach has resulted in consistent improvement as Asher as he trains at Golf Performance Center on Ethan Allen Highway in Ridgefield.
“It’s not about the score,” said Nicole, “it’s about practicing with a purpose. That’s why when he goes to school he works on alignment and mental work. He’s not working on lowering his numbers or just going to hit a bucket of balls. There’s always a purpose. ... It’s not about winning right now. It’s about endurance and staying in the game. Getting used to playing 18 holes and walking and carrying his own bags.”
Home and away
Asher considers Willow Ridge Country Club in Harrison, N.Y. his home course. He was named the club’s under-15 champion in 2017 and 2018, knocking off a 13-year-old when he was only seven.
“It’s a hard, demanding course,” he said. “But it’s given me a lot of good experience against older players.”
At Optimist International Junior Golf Championship, he will be physically far from home — playing all the way down in Doral, Fla. However, he will be in familiar territory playing up against 10- and 11-year-olds.
“There are 45 kids in his age group, they try to limit it to under 50,” Nicole explained. “He gets to play up a year, and it’s great experience because it forces him to play at a higher level and get used to playing against stronger competition.”
One unfamiliar aspect is that the field will be representing more than 30 nations, 45 states and six Canadian provinces. PGA tour stalwarts, like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Jeff Overton and Billy Horschel, have played at the Optimist.
“I’ve played with international golfers at summer camps but never played with them in a tournament,” he said. “It’ll be a great experience to be with new players.”
When he turns 10 in August, Asher will be continue to play with the 10-11 age group at tournaments but will bring with him plenty of experience.
“There’s something every weekend,” Nicole said. “He’s played in eight or nine tournaments this year and finished in the top five in all of them.”