Michael Weston finds out more about Adrian Meronk, the first Polish golfer to earn a European Tour card.
The ‘Polish Tiger Woods’ – Adrian Meronk Exclusive
You can often tell where a player is in their career by the fuss that surrounds them on the driving range – or the lack of it.
As Adrian Meronk slopes towards the practice area at Emirates GC in Dubai, he almost looks lost. Carrying his own bag, he could pass for a regular punter looking for the first tee.
The ‘Polish Tiger Woods’ is actually eyeing up a spot to hit some balls. He’s extremely diligent when it comes to practice – and given his talent, it’s unlikely he’ll stay under the radar for too long.
“That’s a good one,” he laughs, referring to the generous nickname which – for the record – he did not conjure up himself. “I’ve heard of this one. I’m proud to be this,” he explains.
He’s not so aware of the other label – the ‘Godfather of Polish Golf’ – although he’s well aware of his history-making exploits.
Last September, Meronk became the first Polish player to win a European Tour-operated event. That victory came at the 57° Open de Portugal and it helped secure a top-15 finish on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca.
A short while later, he became the first Pole to hold a European Tour card. “It’s only a small step,” he says. “Last year was a very solid year. I accomplished almost everything. I’m very excited to compete with the best. I have to keep moving forward, but it’s nice to be the first in the country to achieve this.”
Despite the obvious pride, he’s not about to start gloating; he wouldn’t want to risk upsetting Poland’s former number-one golfer – his father. “He used to be the best player in Poland,” he says with a smile. “I don’t know if that’s official, but he won a Polish Championship. There weren’t many players back then. Now he’s a seven handicap, just enjoying it.”
His father was responsible for passing on the golf addiction; he got the bug in Germany, where Meronk was born, before the family moved back to Poland when he was two years old.
In the years that followed, they would drive for three hours just to play golf at the weekend. Playing became easier, however, when, at 15, they moved to be closer to a golf course. At Toya Golf & Country Club, Meronk had the perfect playground to hone his skills.
This is where the family home remains, close to the course he’s still attached to. It’s also where – at the age of just 15 – he sampled his first taste of the Challenge Tour. A lot changed over the next ten years, a period that ended with that first win in Portugal.
“It was a great experience playing at Toya, even though I missed the cut,” he says of the 2009 Wroclaw Open. “Last year, I was playing solid, getting close a lot of the time. I just couldn’t finish it off, so to get the win was a big relief. That was one of my goals for the year. I was very happy.”
Formed in the USA
The goals have changed now. Under his coach Matthew Tipper’s tutelage, Meronk is aiming higher. He’s no longer the gangly teenager with potential that Tipper first set eyes on in 2010. He’s still a “big unit”, but he’s also got game, as they say.
“As soon as I saw him, I said, ‘European Tour, no problem,’” recalls Tipper, a former David Leadbetter coach at Mission Hills in China. “It was that obvious from how he hit the golf ball. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that he could make it on to the European Tour or PGA Tour.”
Meronk may have had the game, but he needed direction – and a more competitive environment. America ticked a lot of boxes, and with a little help from Tipper, Meronk was on the move again – to East Tennessee State University. It would prove to be the “best idea” he ever had.
“He [Tipper] was the one that made me believe that I had the potential to go to the States to do the scholarship, because I didn’t really think about it before,” says Meronk, who juggled a business finance degree with his golf obsession. “He was the one that gave me this idea and saw the potential in me. We played everywhere, from Hawaii to Florida and California.
“I played a couple of tournaments with Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Thomas Pieters and Matthias Schwab. A lot of these players were my age and we competed against each other in college tournaments and in Palmer Cups. It was the key to being better at golf. We competed against the best players in the nation. That was a learning experience and good preparation for tour life.”
Potential to realise
Meronk graduated in 2016. Forget about recognised honours – his major qualification was that priceless ‘degree in life experience’. As corny as that may sound, Meronk was transformed by his time in the States.
His first year away had been a particularly demanding one given that he’d only started learning English when he was 16. He returned to Poland determined to realise his dreams of playing professionally.
It was no surprise when one of the big equipment brands, Ping, signed Meronk. “We’ve had the pleasure of looking after Adrian for a number of years,” says Dominic Griffiths, Ping Europe’s tour manager.
“It’s been really pleasing to see him step up. He’s a big, athletic guy with a very solid swing – and he’s got the right attitude. This is really important. When you talk to someone, you know whether they’ve got the right mindset – and he does.
“You want to be prepared for Thursday and not just hit too many balls. Adrian works hard; he’s going to get better year on year. He knows how to win because he’s done it on the Challenge Tour. It’s always difficult the first year on tour, but he’s had a few events that have given him a little bit more experience than other graduates.
“He has a good all-round game and he’s very powerful off the tee; he has 121mph clubhead speed and, generally speaking, he hits it pretty straight. That’s a great asset, especially the way golf is these days. If you can keep it straight and you can tidy up from 150 yards and in, then you’re going to be pretty good.”
Now it’s all about staying patient. His close friend from university and Ping stable mate, Schwab, has already recorded a couple of runner-up spots on the European Tour. The young Austrian is regarded as one of the game’s hottest new prospects. Meronk could be forgiven for getting bogged down in judging his own progress, or even feeling a trace of jealously.
There’s none of that, though; he has his own game plan.
“It’s a new thing for me, seeing all the usual faces that you see on TV,” he says of the new level he finds himself at. “You have to get used to it, but from tournament to tournament it’s getting easier. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. You have to be dedicated, but I like it.
“My coach and I have a good plan, I believe. I just follow this plan, just keep doing my thing and just hope it’s going to be enough. You can’t play like the other guys, just play your own game and believe in yourself.”
All in good time
If Tipper was here, he’d be nodding enthusiastically. His model student has clearly been paying attention. “We’re trying to have the infinite mindset rather than the finite mindset, so it’s all about the bigger picture for us,” adds Meronk’s swing coach.
“He could go on a run this week and win two weeks in a row and everyone’s going ‘Oh my God, this is the next big thing’. If we can remain patient, his time will come, I have no doubt about that.”
Part of this will involve developing his short game. Length isn’t a problem when you’re 6ft 5in, but team Meronk is hoping renowned short-game expert James Sieckmann can help with the game’s more delicate skills.
In Phoenix, hopping between Ping HQ and Mirabel Golf Club to glean a few of Sieckmann’s secrets, he’s like a kid in a candy shop. “I practise a lot,” he says with a grin. “I’m a hard worker. I like everything to be perfect, so whenever I feel something is missing I’ll go and spend quality time on the range, putting green, or chipping. I work a lot.”
He plays a lot, too – and not just because that’s somewhat of a prerequisite for pro golfers. At the Dubai Desert Classic in January, he’s on the list of reserves. It’s frustrating, but at least he has a former Liverpool goalkeeper for company. Jerzy Dudek is here to enjoy seven rounds in three days. The pair struck up an unlikely friendship after meeting on a golf course. He’ll get his golf fix while he’s here, no matter what.
“He’s a nice guy, I like playing with him,” says Meronk, who in Poland’s former shot stopper has the perfect playing partner to discuss the state of the national team. “He’s a very good golfer, very passionate. He plays all the time. Everyone knows him back home.”
They know Meronk, too – at least in golfing circles. “Golf is not a big thing here just yet,” he says. “It’s small, but it’s growing slowly.” A few more Polish Tigers could change that.
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