Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spirit International Opens with Acrobatic Show

THE WOODLANDS, TEXASBefore the world’s best amateur golfers put on a show at the most unique international team event in golf, they were treated to one on Halloween at the Cynthia Woods Pavilion.

The gravity-defying performers of the acrobatic Cirque Le Masque troupe topped off the opening ceremonies for the sixth playing of The Spirit International on Monday night. The theatrical wizardry featured synchronized and costumed jugglers and aerialists performing gasp-inducing feats of balance, strength, grace and coordination.

Surely the 80 amateur golfers in attendance were impressed.

The 2011 Spirit International begins Wednesday, Nov. 2, at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas. Twenty countries, represented with their top two male and female amateur golfers, will compete as teams for gold, silver and bronze medals in 54 holes of four ball stroke play.

The opening ceremonies began with an address from golf media mogul and Master of Ceremonies Peter Kessler. Whispering Pines founder and Spirit Golf Association Chairman Corby Robertson presented the procession of countries with each team walking to the stage flying their nation’s flag while a video introduction of each team member played for the estimated 400 in attendance.

A video address from former President George W. Bush congratulated Robertson and all the competitors for promoting international goodwill through the game of golf. Rising LPGA Tour star Alexis Thompson gave the Past Champions Address and spoke about the importance of chasing your dreams. Thompson won three gold medals at the 2009 Spirit International.

“I’ve learned a lot from my successes in golf, but I’ve learned so much more from my struggles,” said the 16-year-old Thompson, who became the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history in September when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic by five shots. “It was my decision all the way to turn professional. I had to do a lot of convincing to get my parents to go along with it, but it is what I wanted to do. I encourage everyone to chase after their dreams no matter what anyone says.”

That’s exactly what the players in the field at The Spirit International are doing. Seventy-five of the 80 competitors are national champions or ranked No. 1 in their home countries. These truly are the greatest amateur golfers in the world. The bi-annual event, known as “the Olympics of golf,” has become the proving grounds for tomorrow’s golf superstars. International icons such as Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Yani Tseng, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day and Matteo Manassero are only a few past alumni of The Spirit.

“I’m honored to be a part of this,” said three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Nathan Smith, who makes up one-quarter of the U.S. Team. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve heard Whispering Pines is off-the-charts good, and I’m excited to play my first practice round tomorrow.”

Smith, the oldest player in the field at 33 years, is joined by 2011 U.S. Amateur Champion Kelly Kraft from Denton, Texas. Kraft, 23, played college golf at SMU and won the Texas Amateur in 2009 and 2011. The U.S. men are accompanied by University of Arkansas sophomore Emily Tubert, 19, the 2010 U.S. Public Links Champion, and LSU sophomore Austin Ernst, 19, the reigning women’s individual NCAA Div. I champion.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Ernst said. “Anytime you get to represent your country, it is a major honor.”

For fans at home or at the office, the 2011 Spirit International features a live webcast of the four-day tournament. Along with a highlight package of the opening ceremonies, the webcast is available at http://www.thespiritgolf.com/. Admission to the international competition is free.

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