Alex Haralson and Ryann McCuiston have dreams of representing the United States in the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup.
They have the lofty dreams of being among the best American golfers in the world, with Haralson dominating the PGA Tour and McCuiston controlling the LPGA Tour.
They took a step toward those goals when they participated in the Ryder Cup Junior Academy last week at the PGA Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
The two WindStone members and high school sophomores -- McCuiston at Ringgold and Haralson at McCallie -- earned all-expense-paid trips to the academy.
Along with getting over some nerves and making friends with fellow teenagers from across the country, they received instruction on their swings, the rules of golf, stroke-play strategy and match-play strategy from some of the best instructors in the country -- and Billy Casper.
"I got a lot of great instruction and it's helped my game so much," Haralson said. "It was a great week."
The academy had one boy and one girl represented from each of the 41 PGA sections across the country, but they were not necessarily the section's best players. Each candidate had to apply, write an essay, describe his or her academic achievements and make a financial disclosure.
Haralson and McCuiston were selected from a pool of all juniors in the PGA Tennessee Section, which dips into bordering counties in Mississippi and Georgia.
The daily schedule at the academy was intense.
"We'd start in the morning and practice for about three hours; then we'd have lunch; then we'd walk 18 holes," McCuiston said. "Each day it was a different format."
Haralson can break 80 on a good day, and that's a score McCuiston strives for.
"My goal for Ryann was to get her to play more golf, because she's also good at softball," WindStone pro Jeff Craig said. "For Alex, hopefully it brought him a lot of confidence that he can play good golf.
"I wanted this to be a springboard for both of them to want to be better and to enjoy the game more."
Both participants said they'll try to play more match-play events with their friends because they enjoy the format. McCuiston went 0-2 in her official matches during the academy, but Haralson went 2-0 combined in a four-ball and a singles competition.
"It's a different mental process from stroke play," Haralson said. "Sometimes I get ahead of myself, but match play keeps you concentrating on the hole you're on."
He and McCuiston both said their time at the academy was the best week of their lives.
They appreciated the instruction. For example, Haralson's swing was too steep. McCuiston, who got help with her long irons, enjoyed the camaraderie and made friends for life, she said. And both enjoyed glow-in-the-dark miniature golf after dark on the Fourth of July.
The academy experiences were paid for by the PGA of America and Ryder Cup participants.
"Ryder Cup players agreed to donate part of their money to charity, and they all agreed to donate part of it to the junior academy to make it free of charge," said Hunt Gilliland, Council Fire's director of golf and a member of the PGA board of directors.
European teams have the five most important international team golf trophies in the world. They own the professional Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup. They also own the amateur Ryder Cup and Curtis Cup, as well as the best college competition, the Palmer Cup.
"The rest of the world has become deeper in its list of quality players," Gilliland said.
"The Ryder Cup and other competitions weren't as interesting when they were dominated by the U.S.," he added. "I think it's become cyclical like teams in baseball or the NFL."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...
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