Ada, Mich. -- Marcel Puyat is an undeniably talented junior golfer, but when it comes to adapting to life’s ever-evolving experiences, he’s a seasoned professional.
At 17, Puyat has no doubt learned there’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome. Growing up in the Philippines, he quickly became attracted to video games. His father, Eugenio, a passionate golfer, had other ideas and brought his son to the game at age 9, rescuing him from all things couch-related. The PlayStation Rule was quickly adopted by the elder Puyat.
“When I was a young kid, I just wanted to run around and do whatever. My dad told me, ‘One hour of Play Station equals one hour of golf,’ ” Puyat laughed. “My dad was a really avid fan of golf. Crazy. The golf bug bit him and he wanted to get me into sports a bit more. I wasn’t too much of a sports guy when I was 6, 7 or 8, but I found that I had the touch. I took to the game and went from there.”
As Puyat grew increasingly attached to golf and began playing competitively as a pre-teen, some life-forming change took hold. At 14, he moved to the U.S. to attend a golf academy in Bradenton, Fla. On one hand, he was able to develop his skills, but on the other, he was faced with the prospect of getting used to a new culture and making friends while still learning the language. The only striking similarity between Florida and the Philippines, Puyat notes, was the tropical weather.
Intent on challenging himself on and off the course, the game and the classroom soon became Puyat’s proving grounds. In his first USGA championship, last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., he advanced to the round of 16. Later last summer, after earning medalist honors in sectional qualifying, he beat University of Illinois junior Scott Langley, this year’s NCAA individual champion, in the opening round of the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.
And he enters this year’s national championship on an upswing, having collected his first tournament win in the spring, the American Junior Golf Association’s Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Championship, and posting another top-10 at a national junior event.
The uncertainties that accompany match play, which starts on Wednesday, seem to play to his strengths.
“Tournament [golf] is really what got me interested,” Puyat said. “When I got into competition, the opportunity to play against – and beat – other kids, was fun for me. Off the course, I’m not too cocky. On the course, I’m a fierce competitor and want to beat everybody. I know I’m going to play some great players, but if I take my ‘A’ game out there, I can take on anyone, especially in match play.”
Being able to change as circumstances dictate can be a valuable ally, Puyat has learned. Courses conditions varied in the Philippines, but he learned to play all types of shots, a trait that has served him well, especially in USGA competitions, where every minute detail of a player’s game is examined.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly great at any certain course,” Puyat says. “You’d see a lot of funky lies and bunkers with no sand in them [in the Philippines]. You get used to it. I’m used to any kind of grass, any kind of lie. I can play in the wind and control my ball flight. The strength of my game is having no weakness.”
In the opening round of the U.S. Junior Amateur on Monday, Puyat short-sided himself on his ninth hole. Faced with a slippery chip shot with the putting surface running away from him, he made the best of the tough spot by sinking the delicate slider. That moved Puyat to three under par, which is where he completed the round.
Puyat’s game has improved by working with his coaches to refine the mechanics of his swing and never allowing a change of course to mute the swell of momentum he’s continued to build during cross-continental travels.
By Puyat’s standards, he will undertake a tame cross-country journey in the fall when he moves to California to enter La Quinta High School, before fulfilling a lifelong dream when he attends college at Stanford University in the fall of 2011 on a golf scholarship.
He’s looking for a watershed victory at this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur, but one senses that results will never entirely define Puyat. Life and golf have taught him the value of perseverance, something a junior golf ranking is incapable of measuring. There’s one message that he hopes gains plenty of mileage.
“Don’t take results too seriously. Always keep trying to improve,” Puyat advises. “A lot of kids can get kind of discouraged when they see that a lot of other kids are better than them. Junior golf doesn’t show how great you’re going to be in the future. What really matters is how you grow into a mature player. And person.”
Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association. He’s contributing articles at this week's U.S. Junior Amateur for the USGA.