2003: Heath still adjusting to college life in U.S.
There aren’t many young golfers who would ignore the advice of six-time major winner Nick Faldo, but James Heath did when he decided to attend Augusta State University.
Heath’s decision in January to attend Augusta State came as a direct result of his friendship with fellow Englishman Jamie Elson, a standout at Augusta State for three years before returning home to prepare for a professional career. It was Elson who persuaded Heath that Augusta was the place for him, but a meeting with Faldo at Wentworth Golf Club late last year threw a wrench into Heath’s plans.
Faldo is a friend of the Heath family, and James turned to England’s most successful golfer for advice.
Faldo told Heath to forget it, counseling his young friend to stay at home. He said crossing the Atlantic would not help Heath’s game. Faldo’s advice came from his own brief experience of college golf. The former world No. 1 attended the University of Houston in 1976 and left disillusioned after a few months.
Faldo said he had to change his entire routine when he went to the United States, and he told Heath that such a drastic routine change could have disastrous consequences for Heath’s game. Heath wasn’t at Augusta State long before Faldo’s words came true.
“It didn’t take very long for me to realize what Nick was talking about, because your whole life changes,” Heath said. “My routine at home was pretty well set, and here I’ve had to learn to adapt to a whole new way of life.
“I did doubt whether it was the right thing to do, because it is a complete change of lifestyle and it’s been hard for me to settle in. For the first three weeks, I thought it was a holiday, then I realized that I was here for the long haul. That was quite daunting.”
Feeling unsettled, Heath placed 15th, 23rd, 74th and 47th in his first four tournaments this spring, and was unhappy with his performances. He was soon under pressure to return home to England.
“My dad and my brother were very concerned about me and wondered if perhaps I would be better off coming home,” he said. “I think they were expecting me to come home imminently. They saw my results and didn’t think it was worth staying. To be honest, I didn’t play anywhere near my potential.”
As a member of the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup squad and the Faldo elite squad, Heath is a major golf fixture in England. Moving back home would have been an easy option, yet the youngster is determined to make his mark in the United States.
Heath seems to be adjusting a bit better as Augusta State prepares for postseason play later this month. He had his best individual finish, firing rounds of 68-67-68 to come in third and help lead the Jaguars to victory April 5-6 at the Cleveland Golf/ Augusta State Invitational.
“I think if I can get my routine straight around going to class and practicing and playing, then I will be OK,” Heath said. “It takes time, but I know it can only be best for my golf in the long run, and I’m determined to stick it out.
“The competition out here is so strong. These are the guys I intend to be playing against in the future, so it means I can measure myself against them, which has to be good for me. . . . I know this will be the best thing for my golf whether I like it or not.”