U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Maruyama-Seeber Side Short on Years, Not Experience May 21, 2016 | Mamaroneck, N.Y. By Bill Fields

Californians Sean Maruyama (left) and Clay Seeber are hoping their youthful exuberance and skill carry them far at Winged Foot this week. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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Sean Maruyama and Clay Seeber make up the youngest team in the 2nd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club, but the 15-year-old Californians don’t think their youth will hurt them.

“We don’t feel out of place. We feel comfortable,” said Maruyama. “I don’t think we have a disadvantage or anything because of our age.”

It’s not a surprise that Maruyama is at ease. Since he was a little boy, he has been around big-time golf with his father, Shigeki, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and 10-time Japan Golf Tour winner who tied for fourth in the 2004 U.S. Open.

“I went out on tour quite a bit,” Sean Maruyama said. “It was fun. I got to go on the range and meet all these great people. They were so nice to me, too. When I was 7, at Congressional, I met Tiger [Woods]. I got to hit his driver, and he was like, ‘Wow.’”

During the 2013 Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village, where Shigeki was an assistant captain for the International team, Sean spent the competition alongside his dad.

“I rode around on his cart the whole time to translate from English to Japanese for him because he doesn’t understand English too well,” Sean said. “I was on the radio listening to Captain Nick Price and the other assistant captain, hearing how players were doing. I’d tell my dad something and he’d either be really happy or really sad. It was a great experience.”

Maruyama and Seeber could impress this week. Maruyama won the Southern California Junior Amateur last year. Seeber reached the Round of 64 in the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur. Like Maruyama, Seeber has gotten advice from elite golfers in the form of tour professionals Patrick Cantlay and Brendan Steele, with whom he plays at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine, Calif. Cantlay was the runner-up in the 2011 U.S. Amateur and low amateur in the 2011 U.S. Open.

“Brendan has helped me a lot lately,” Seeber said. “I felt I was playing really well six months ago and I wasn’t scoring like I should. He’s helped me learn where to miss it, and told me that sometimes a 20-footer uphill is better than 10 feet straight downhill. And he’s taught me not to hit driver on every hole.”

Bothered by thumb and shoulder injuries, Shigeki Maruyama, 46, doesn’t compete much these days, but he was an explosive player, shooting 58 on June 5, 2000 in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club’s South Course in Rockville, Md.

Due to his cheerful disposition during competition, Shigeki was nicknamed the “Smiling Assassin,” but his son is striving to be as even-keeled.

“He was a pretty happy man on the course,” Sean said. “He says that you can get mad, but you have to always keep your head up because you can bounce back with a bunch of birdies after a mistake. I’m getting better at that, but it’s a work in progress.”

While Sean was swinging a plastic golf club as a toddler, Seeber began later, as a 10-year-old. His first full round came in a junior tournament on a wet and windy day.

“We were very green,” said Seeber’s mother, Karen.

“It was pretty miserable, but I think I liked the challenge,” said Seeber, who was hooked on the game from that point. “You can control most things but not everything. And also, it’s your fault if you hit it bad, not anybody else’s.”

Embracing the challenge is a good attitude to have at a demanding venue like Winged Foot. Sean isn’t the first member of his family to compete on the A.W. Tillinghast design. His dad tied for 23rd in the 1997 PGA Championship on the West Course.

Some day, Sean hopes to follow his father into a playing career. “I know it won’t be easy, but I really want to try to beat my dad and what he did,” he said.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes regularly to USGA websites.

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