Dmitrij Gabczenko, Managing Director of the tournament, talking to Mariusz Czerkawski – special guest at SIGC 2016.
(Mariusz Czerkawski – born April 13, 1972 in Radomsko, Poland) is an successfull entrepreneur, a retired Polish ice hockey player and active and talented golfist as well. He played for the Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League (NHL). In addition to playing in the NHL, Czerkawski played for several different European-based teams. A consistent scorer, Czerkawski was the first person born and trained in Poland to play in the NHL.)
Dmitrij Gabczenko: Mariusz, you have played golf for 7 years now, what can you say about the development of the discipline in Poland?
Mariusz Czerkawski: I have noticed the rapid developments being made in golf in Poland, as, thanks to the players, a growing number of people are now aware of what golf is. This can also be seen in the fact that some time ago you could go with a group of friends and play golf any time you like, but now it can be hard to find an available date, not to mention that it needs to be booked beforehand. This happens not only during weekends, but increasingly often during the week as well.
Golf has been successfully promoted by initiatives taken up by PGA of Poland and PZG (Polski Związek Golfa - Polish Golf Association), so that each year there are new tournaments being organised. Nowadays, literally everyone either knows someone who plays golf, or has tried to play golf. Of course the journey has just begun, but I believe it is the right path.
DG: You have been engaged in many initiatives aiming at promoting sport among children and teenagers. What do you think they can learn by playing golf?
MCZ: Yes, the purpose of my organisation, Sport 7, is to teach hockey and skating, but golf is not much different. It involves positive competition in the open air, and it teaches patience, as one needs to strive to hit the ball further and better so as to make it reach the hole. All these things help children to enjoy their time, use it effectively and spend it in beautiful surroundings. Of course, not all of them will end up as golfers. Contemporary golf provides possibilities that several years ago were beyond our reach – there were very few golf courses available. These days there are dozens of 18- and 9-hole courses and driving ranges, and golf clubs frequently reach out to schools or even kindergartens. Once they manage to do so, they teach children determination, the right attitude towards training sessions and help them to discover golf. This provides yet another alternative to popular sports, such as football, athletics or running. Due to that, we notice a growing number of young people attending driving ranges and golf courses.
DG: Every year you become increasingly successful in golf. Are you determined to achieve as impressive results in golf as you did in hockey?
MCZ: What I like about golf is that I can practice it whenever I have some free time to head to a golf course, to work on my strokes and putting. It is always very satisfying to realise that I can hit the ball ever more precisely. I test myself during each round and each tournament. I can improve my results with every casual play, and so that is what I do. It is not easy to move forward, though. For instance, I have been stuck with a handicap of 4 for a while, and to improve I need my training sessions to become more professional. Golf requires discipline and makes you compete with yourself to develop your skills. My current plans concern only amateur golf, but there are also some issues I cannot ignore. I enjoy every tournament I take part in. Golf is also about moving from a handicap of 21 to 17 and lower – it is very satisfying for me. It is quite a challenge to enter the lowest handicap group.
DG: You have had a chance to play with the world's best golfers. Are there any common qualities they have, which are essential to be successful in this discipline?
MCZ: It is true, I have observed the best players a couple of times. I have attended The Open and the Honda Classic Golf in Florida. This allowed me to observe the best players, see how they play. The precision and technique behind their swings is incredible – this is the sky-high level of world golf. First of all, they are able to perform under great pressure – as golf is an individual sport, the whole responsibility for the result is on their shoulders. This means that they have to learn to cope with that. Undoubtedly, their personalities are incredible – only a couple of hundred people out of thousands playing golf are considered to be among the world's best. Startlingly, the differences in their results are minimal, so their every thought influences the score. Their focus – all of it impacts the stroke and the score. Although everyone is equal at the driving range, at the course the difference becomes obvious, that skills developed by training really matter.
DG: Can you somehow transfer your experience gained through face-to-face contact with other hockey players to golf?
MCZ: Skating and using a hockey stick surely teaches you certain skills, such as motor coordination and timing. It is claimed that it is the easiest for baseball players to become golfers, but hockey players rank second. It is mostly because the swing requires good balance, or touch. That is why I choose the left side, as I did in hockey, although I am right-handed. Perhaps by doing so, I try to connect my hockey to golf.
DG: The SKAT International Golf Cup will take place at the Sierra Golf Club again. As you have played at many golf courses around the world, which qualities of this course makes it memorable for you?
MCZ: The high quality of the course, wonderful driving range, very neat layout, world class greens and fairways. That is why I enjoy coming to Sierra to play a round.
DG: During your hockey career you played in a hundred games, in how many tournaments should a golfer take part to feel confident?
MCZ: It is hard to say. Even while watching the best players in the world, I see their concentration on every stroke. Each element is equally important: the grip, position, alignment of the feet, and position of the club. I always wonder: as they have already hit millions of balls, theoretically speaking, they could go and hit the ball a bit faster. They would surely do well just like that. However, as much as they need to focus, we as amateurs experience emotions before every swing. I must admit – the more tournaments you play, the more confident you feel. There are many conditions influencing the quality of every swing but, with time, some of them do not bother a player as much as they did at the beginning.
DG: SIGC 2016 is accompanied by a one-day tournament, the Junior Golf Cup – could you please share a piece of advice for beginners who are just beginning their golf experience?
MCZ: First and foremost, they should always believe in their skills. Moreover, they should enjoy the sport. Of course, it is self-explanatory – if they play, they surely enjoy it. There is also one key rule – the more you practice the more likely you are to become a good golfer. Undoubtedly, each hour spent at the golf course, driving range or putting green will be beneficial.
DG: Thank you very much Mariusz, I wish you more accomplishments on the golf courses around the world. See you at SIGC 2016 in a few months!