FORMER tennis star Anna Kournikova’s younger brother served up one of the eye-catching performances in the first round of the US Kids Golf European Championship in East Lothian, where part one of a double title bid by another famous sporting family failed to get off the first tee.
Reece Els, nephew of Ernie, who won the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2002 and is returning to defend the Claret Jug there in July, didn’t appear for his tee-time at Gullane, with a fellow South African competitor indicating a cancelled flight might have been the reason for the no-show.
Playing in the eight-and-under event over nine holes at Longniddry, Allan Kournikova confirmed sporting prowess runs in the family as he signed for a one-under-par 35 to share the lead with two fellow Americans, Rafe Cochrane and Jaivir Pande.
Bidding to repeat his win in a younger age category at the same venue 12 months ago – the Palm Beach-based youngster opened with a 32 on that occasion – Kournikova’s card was illuminated by three birdies in a row from the fifth in fairly benign conditions.
It was a good day’s work for the youngster, as it obviously was for one of his fellow competitors at Longniddry, based on the impromptu free-standing handstand he did on the last green after sinking a putt.
Being held in East Lothian for the sixth year, this year’s event has attracted more than 500 competitors from 40 different countries and, on the first tee at Gullane No 2 at least, it was a conveyor belt of smooth swings and crisp blows. While the anticipation of hearing “Els” being announced was sadly dampened, attention was grabbed when the starter declared that “Holywood in Northern Ireland” was the home club of Sebastian Ewing, a competitor in the 12-and-under event. “Rory McIlroy’s successor perhaps?” declared one voice behind the tee.
“There’s a Masters champion here this week probably and a US Women’s Open champion, too,” said Dan van Horn, president of US Kids Golf and the driving force behind the European event in tandem with Alasdair Good, the Gullane Golf Club professional.
“We have an expression when it comes to this event of ‘Mozart being in the midst of us but we don’t really know it’. Some of these kids are so naturally gifted. Little Allan Kournikova, for example, is quite something.”
Amongst the army of volunteers on duty at Craigielaw, Gullane No 2 and No 3, Longniddry and Luffness New this week is Scott Knowles, a former Scottish Golfer of the Year and captain of Scotland’s victorious team in last year’s Home Internationals.
“This is serious stuff and some of the youngsters even come with their coaches and psychologists,” he said. “
The standard of play is incredible and I’d be surprised if we don’t see someone here this week go on to become a big name in the future.”