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Friday, June 27, 2014

Newbury’s Alex von Svoboda proves honor does exist in sports

George Scione

It was a week full of winners on display at Campbell’s Scottish Highlands golf course in Salem.

Three in particular. ...

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It was a week full of winners on display at Campbell’s Scottish Highlands golf course in Salem.

Three in particular.

Only 15 years old, Windham’s James McKee and Nashua’s Brandon Gillis played 21 holes of championship golf Wednesday. The soon-to-be high school sophomores at Windham and Nashua North, respectively, recorded only three bogeys between them during the New Hampshire Golf Association’s Junior Championship final.

It was some of the better golf witnessed in one man’s two years on the beat.

Then, there was the best golf these two eyes have ever seen. And, it wasn’t even for a title.

Newbury 17-year-old Alex von Svoboda won more than a title when he lost on the 18th hole of Tuesday’s semifinal against Gillis. He earned links-cred. A valuable asset in the golf world.

Honestly, it says a lot more about who von Svoboda is in day-to-day life – away from a golf course.

Von Svoboda, who just graduated from Bishop Brady High School in Concord, was all square with Gillis as they approached Campbell’s Scottish Highlands’ 18th tee. Just two holes earlier, von Svoboda was on the brink of elimination.

Holding a 2-up lead with three holes to play, all Gillis needed was a win on the 16th to secure victory. Von Svoboda didn’t make it easy. In fact, he would win 16 and 17 to even things up on the final hole.

Both reached the fringe in two shots and chipped closer to the pin for three strokes. As von Svoboda addressed the ball to putt, it moved. The Baker Hill Golf Club member got the attention of NHGA match official Ron Blythe to explain the situation.

“I addressed the ball and it moved by a dimple,” von Svoboda said. “I had to call myself on that. Maybe it was from the wind or when I addressed it. I could tell that it moved just a tad. I just knew right away to do it. It’s the right thing.

“It’s better to do that than maybe not call it and then make it. That’s cheating.”

He was assessed a penalty stroke, which ultimately cost him the hole and match.

“It’s rough,” said von Svoboda, who is hoping to walk onto the golf team at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. “Especially in my last tournament as a junior.”

A lot of times folks will throw out hypotheticals – heck, there’s a network TV show devoted to such questions, “What Would You Do?” – and it’s hard to answer unless you’re actually in the moment.

Von Svoboda was in such a moment and passed with flying colors.

NHGA tournament director John Jelley was raving about the teenager’s knowledge of the rules and integrity to apply them to himself when it would impact him negatively in the outcome of his match.

“I guess in baseball that’s what they call a high-leverage situation,” Jelley said. “Well, that’s what that was, and he still stepped right up and called it.

“Nobody else would have seen it. Nobody else would have probably had a clue that something had happened. That’s golf – that’s what golf should be in my opinion. I think it’s great he did that. He can sleep well at night, and he should. He should be proud of himself.”

Jelley is right. His opponent certainly didn’t see the ball move.

“That’s great sportsmanship,” Gillis said. “He’s a really nice kid all the way. Just a terrible time for that to happen.”

The official didn’t see the ball move.

“This is a game of personal integrity,” Blythe said. “You know something went wrong. You know it’s wrong. I think if he had known the ball moved, and not called me over, he would have had a hard time sleeping.

“He’s a fine young man.”

The only person capable of seeing and calling the penalty was von Svoboda himself. He’s earned the admiration of the NHGA and anyone else who hears the story.

“It’s a huge compliment to that young man,” Jelley said. “That he would not hesitate to call a penalty on himself. That’s really what golf is all about, in my opinion.

“If you can’t be an honest person out there, maybe you should find another sport to play – like basketball or something.”

George Scione can be reached
at 594-6520 or gscione@
nashuatelegraph.com. Also,
follow Scione on Twitter
(@Telegraph_BigG).