Ukrainian junior golfer gains attention but war not mentioned by Team Europe at Ryder Cup


GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — The notes to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the European anthem rang out into the massive crowd assembled on the lawn at the Marco Simone Golf Club.

The Frecce Tricolori acrobatic air team flew overhead leaving behind a stream in Italy’s colors of green, white and red.

And European captain Luke Donald traded the traditional pleasantries with American counterpart Zach Johnson.

But there was no mention of the conflict in Ukraine during the elaborate opening ceremony of the Ryder Cup on Thursday — even though Team Europe represents the war-torn country.

There was a Ukrainian presence at the course outside Rome earlier, though, when 15-year-old Lev Grinberg was the youngest member of the Europe team that romped to a record 11-point victory over the United States in the Junior Ryder Cup.

“We won the junior one but I also want to win the men’s one and I want to win all the four majors. And then I would satisfy my career,” the precocious Grinberg told The Associated Press after losing his singles match to a high school senior, Nicholas Gross.

Grinberg was already the youngest player to make the cut at a regular European tour event when he accomplished the feat last year at 14 years and 6 months in his adopted home of Belgium.

Grinberg started playing golf at age 5 at the Kozyn club in Kyiv. Then when he joined his father for a business trip to Belgium a few years later, he was identified as a child prodigy and father and son moved to Belgium to pursue his career.

The results have come rapidly, with Grinberg advancing to the final stage of U.S. Open qualifying in 2021.

“He’s been great for the team room and he’s a great character, an outstanding talent,” Europe’s junior team captain Stephen Gallacher said. “He’s 15 years old in age but he’s got an old head on young shoulders. He’s a great kid. He’ll go on to bigger things.”

While Ukraine is still waiting to become an EU member, golfers for the country are eligible for Team Europe because it’s part of the continent.

Grinberg said that because of the war only one of the few golf courses in Ukraine remains in working order. And he hasn’t seen his grandfather since before the war.

“I miss him a lot,” he said.

Grinberg rated his participation in the Ryder Cup as the best moment of his budding career, with Europe ending a run of six straight defeats in the junior competition.

“This is team spirit playing with your friends and partners that you competed the whole year against, and to have them beside you and support you, I think that’s more memorable than making the cut.”

Grinberg’s appearance, which marked the first time that the junior edition of golf’s biggest team event was held on the actual Ryder Cup course, came a day after Ukraine soccer standout Andriy Shevchenko played in the All-Star match.

“He’s incredible,” Shevchenko told The Associated Press about Grinberg. “It’s great we have this young, very talented player.”

After he finishes high school, Grinberg wants to play college golf in the U.S. and then turn pro.

“I like Texas Tech, Arizona State, FSU (Florida State),” he said.

First, though, he needs to hone his skills.

“He’s very young and he’s very raw. But he has that talent,” Gallacher said. “Once he can refine it I think he’ll be a force to deal with. He’s got the length, he’s got the heart, he’s got the power. So he just needs a little bit of roundedness.”

While there have been tributes to Ukraine throughout the sports world since Russia’s invasion last year, Shevchenko — who has been appointed a special advisor to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — said he wouldn’t be bothered if the war was not mentioned at the Ryder Cup.

“It is the personal issue or whatever the players feel,” Shevchenko said, “he can express himself about this.”


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