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Ukraine’s best golfer - 15-year-old Mykhailo ‘Misha’ Golod - was at TPC Sawgrass this weekend, with a heart-rending tale of how he reluctantly left his parents behind and escaped the war zone.
I was lucky enough to partner Misha, the World No.453 amateur with seven World Amateur Golf Ranking-sanctioned wins, in the traditional sponsor’s day event played after the dust settles on the Players Championship, and listening to his incredible back story was both harrowing, and uplifting.
Misha plays off plus one, and is his country’s No.1 junior and - in the absence of any Ukrainian professionals - also their best player at any level. He is now safely settled in Florida after being offered a place at the David Leadbettter Academy, as Sir Nick Faldo’s former coach heard about his plight and offered to help.
The relief was written all over his face as he spoke about how lucky he was to be in the USA - although he was close to tears as he talked about what it was like to leave mum Vita and dad Oleg behind.
He explained: “My parents took the decision to get me to safety when bombs and missiles started exploding close to our home on the outskirts of Kyiv, and Russian troops were just a few miles away from us. The offer to attend the David Leadbetter Academy was on the table as I’ve played a few junior events in Florida in the past. And once we knew that was still available my parents loaded me into the car and headed for the Hungarian border.
“My dad wasn’t allowed to cross the border, because at 46 he is within the age group who could be called upon for military service, although he hasn’t been called up yet. But my mum boarded the plane with me and flew to Orlando, where we were met by David and the people I will be staying with in Florida.
“Then my mum caught a plane back to Budapest airport, where she left our car, and drove back to Kyiv. I have an older sister who is at college in America, but there wasn't time for her to get to the airport in Orlando. Thankfully, the wifi and phone service still works in Kyiv, so I’m in touch with my parents a lot. But I worry about them all the time, and fear for their safety.
“I understand America and most of Europe don’t want to risk starting World War III by getting involved in this war, but all I would say is please, please, please, this killing has to stop. Someone please find a way to do that.”
Golf seems irrelevant in this context, but Misha admitted he was happy to leave his cares behind for a few hours and play a course he has always dreamed about playing.
He made the most of it by delivering a masterclass in driving, averaging around 290 yards off the tee, despite playing with borrowed clubs as his were lost in transit, although he still hopes to be reunited with them soon.
The highlight of the round came with a brilliant birdie at the 18th, even though his tee shot finished on the pine straw. A spectacular 4-iron punch shot rolled onto the green, and settled ten feet from the pin. Myself and the rest of our group helped to will the putt into the hole!
Misha grinned: "I walked inside the ropes with the Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas group in the final round of the Players. I knew I was playing the course the next day, and I was hitting every shot in my mind.
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"I got a signed glove off Justin and a signed ball from Jon. They were incredibly supportive, and said it was a pleasure for them to meet me. I think they got that the wrong way around!
"That birdie on 18 and hitting two shots to the 17th green - and keeping them both dry, even though the second one was in the island hole bunker - are memories I will treasure forever. I just wish my family could have been there to share it with me. Hopefully we will all be reunited very soon.”
David brings a wealth of experience to Golf Monthly as a freelance contributor having spent more than two decades covering the game as The Sun's golf correspondent. Prior to that, he worked as a sports reporter for the Daily Mail. David has covered the last 12 Ryder Cups and every Masters tournament since 1999. A popular and highly-respected name in the press tents around the world, David has built close relationships with many of the game's leading players and officials.
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