Youth Golf –
Marco Penge has good reason to be glued to the Ryder Cup this weekend. He hopes to play in the event in six years.
That might seem an over-ambitious aim for a 14-year-old, until you consider what the Horsham schoolboy has already achieved in less than a decade since he first picked up a club.
Marco is the son of Marie and Italian Angelo, and brother of Gemma, 16. None of them are also fantastic golfers, but the Crawley-born teenager has his parents to thank for introducing him to the sport.
He recalled: “I started playing when I was 5½. My mum bought my dad a set of golf clubs for his 40th birthday and because he had a set he bought me a set too.
“We used to go down to the range in Pease Pottage a couple of times a week and I got my first handicap (32) when I was seven. I think I picked it up quite easily.
“I got to scratch when I was 13½, which was quite a good achievement because I got there quicker than Rory McIroy did, and moved to +1 (one shot better than scratch) in July this year.”
Marco made national headlines in 2008 when, at the age of nine, he played for Mannings Heath in the Sunday Mail Classic Cup and won his match 4&3.
Reporter Peter Higgs said on www.dailymail.co.uk: “Think how Richard Martin felt when he turned up for his crucial singles match in a major golf competition to be told that he was playing against a nine-year-old.
“Then imagine his demeanour a few hours later when he walked off the Sussex course having been soundly beaten by the 4ft 11in schoolboy.
“The consolation for the 34-year-old father of three was that even though he was the first adult to lose against Marco Penge in a matchplay situation, he certainly won’t be the last.”
Martin said: “It started with my team-mates kidding me that he was only six. Then I saw him practising his chipping and I could tell he was a good player. I thought: Here we go, I could be in trouble.”
The history of sport is littered with promising youngsters who have not gone on to fulfil their apparent potential, for one reason or another.
Early pressure to perform is sometimes cited as a factor and Marco acknowledged: “I’ve had quite a lot of publicity.” But he added: “That’s okay, because I play better when I’m under pressure.”
After winning the Sussex U15 title four years in succession, Marco admits he is starting to get ever-so-slightly tired of comparisons with former child protégé Tiger Woods.
Instead, he says his style is similar to that of two-time major winner Rory McIlroy “because we’re both quite aggressive players”.
A quick check on Google reveals an unofficial website fan page is being set up to follow his impressive exploits, but Marco does not know who is behind it. He does not have an agent yet but says this might be worth considering at some stage as a way of securing sponsorship.
Marco has the support of The Forest School, where he has just started Year 10.
The former Holbrook Primary School pupil said: “I normally have a day (Friday) or half a day a week off school. Forest are good with it because I play at quite a high level and I play for England. My target grades are mostly Bs, but I’m focused on becoming a professional golfer.”
Coached by Alex Saary and Ryan Fenwick, Marco is a member of three golf clubs – Mannings Heath, Worthing and The Dyke – and also uses the driving range at Horsham Golf and Fitness.
Including competitions and practice, he spends an average of 20-25 hours a week playing golf in the summer and 15 hours a week in the winter.
Even with the help of a much-appreciated award from Set4Success, the charity recognising success and potential in Horsham district, Marco is grateful for Angelo and Marie’s support – both financial and in terms of time.
He said: “My parents are really supportive and come with me to every event from 30 minutes to six hours away, and occasionally abroad.”
I spoke to him just before he set off for a weekend of training with England U18 in Lincolnshire, having been informed of his call-up in an email two days earlier.
He first played for his country just before his 14th birthday. In August this year, he won three matches out of four for England U16 against Spain and Wales. Next weekend, he will play for England U16 against Scotland at Pannal Golf Club, North Yorkshire.
Marco said: “It feels good to play for England, the start of becoming a tour player like Luke Donald and Justin Rose.
“Next year I want to win a national event, finish in the top 10 in every national event I play in, and play for England U16 and U18 a lot.
“After that I want to play in the Walker Cup when I’m 17, get on the tour and hopefully play in the Ryder Cup when I’m 20.”
It might have been a different story. Marco scored 75 goals in a season for Chesworth Rovers and played on the right side of midfield in Southampton’s Academy team for a season around the age of 10.
Reading were also interested and Marco has a season ticket at Arsenal, but he gave up playing football seriously to concentrate on golf.
That decision could be bad news for the United States at Le Golf National, near Paris, in the autumn of 2018.