HARRY Atkinson is the best 11-year-old golfer in the country.
He plays off a handicap of 3.3 (his lowest has been 2.6), hits the ball gun-barrel straight and is a demon putter.
Such is his talent, the Elermore Vale prodigy has been invited to compete against players up to five years his senior in the NSW Junior Championships being held at Charlestown and Belmont from July 9-13.
Technically, Atkinson, who turns 12 on July 2, is too young to play in the event and, despite an invite, will only be eligible to compete for the overall title, not the 13 years.
The 12-years-and-under State titles are being held in Sydney from July 17-20.
“It doesn’t worry me playing the older kids,” said Harry, who is in year six at Macquarie College and a member at Kurri Kurri. “It’s just another game of golf. The aim is to make the cut for the open [junior] championships and hopefully win my age group the following week.”
At the Macarthur Junior Masters last month, Atkinson finished fifth overall, highlighted by his first tournament sub-par round. He shot 72-70 to win the 12-13 years division by five strokes.
At Charlestown in a fortnight, he will be up against the likes of NSW duo Jye Pickin (Charlestown) and Corey Lamb (Branxton).
And if Atkinson’s progression continues, coach Ryan Smith believes he will not just be competing against older players but beating them.
“You forget how young he is because he is so mature,” Smith said. “He has a really good head on his shoulders. He doesn’t spit the dummy or get frustrated like a lot of kids. And he has that natural talent. If we are doing a lesson and I get him to make a change, within a couple of shots he has nailed it. That is the difference when you are comparing talented kids, if they can make that change quickly.”
Smith also coaches Pickin and Blake Windred, who tees off in the European Amateur Championships in Holland late Wednesday.
“Harry has a good short game and is very straight,” Smith said. “He is a carbon copy of Blake. They are so similar. He has a natural swing. We have been working on the basics, mainly his short game and putting, where he can make a difference until he starts to hit it further. At the moment he drives the ball about 200 metres, where as Jye hits it 260.”
Harry was given his first club, a modified putter, at age two.
“He wanted to sleep with it,” said dad Ian, a school teacher at Cessnock who also plays of three. “Then we bought him a little driver and other bits and pieces. Now he is totally absorbed by golf. He has a putter or a wedge in his hand all the time at home. If not, he sits with the iPad and watches golf shows.”
As well as Kurri Kurri, Harry is a member at Newcastle, for whom he played A-Grade senior pennants, and practices at Charlestown.
“I love everything about golf,” he said. “If I’m not playing, I’m watching it. I like Adam Scott and Jason Day, all the Aussies. I’d really like to do that one day for a living.”
Ian said Harry loves all sport but “golf is obviously the main focus”.
“A couple of years ago, I sent a letter to Jack Nicklaus saying my son is quite talented and asked him if he had any advice,” Ian said. “He replied and said play as many sports as you can and get someone on board early that knows his swing and he trusts. That was his advice. That is where Ryan fits in. Harry loves and watches all sport. At school he is in everything – basketball, athletics ...This is the his first year of not playing soccer. Golf is obviously the main focus. I don’t get home and say ‘you are going to the range’. When I walk into the house he says ‘can we go chipping, can we go putting, can we go to the range’. When that stops, that’s his call. While ever he wants to do that I’m happy to support him. The key is that it is his call. If he changes his mind and doesn’t want to go down that path, fair enough. At this stage it is a real passion.”
Harry won the Australian Primary Schools Championship by nine shots in Adelaide last December, carding an even round 70 at North Adelaide, when in year five.
He then won the 12-years division at the Jack Newton Foundation Week of Golf by 24 shots and has since added the Newcastle Golf Club Junior Classic, Macarthur Junior Masters and teamed up with Jason Pelc to win the two-man Ambrose Championships at Kurri.
“Harry is really level headed,” Ian said. “You wouldn’t know if he has had a two or a ten. Maybe a first pump if he gets a two. I believe his success can largely be attributed to Jack Newton Junior Golf and the fact that he has the opportunity to play against the State's best players every three to four weeks on different courses. He has to do everything without a caddy, learn how to play different courses and he also gets to see his mates. He has mates from all over the state and the JNJG events are also a big social outing that they love.”