2006: U.S. ingenuity helps Holland topple powers

By Dave Seanor

There are 270,000 golfers in the Netherlands, compared with 26 million in the United States. Holland has perhaps 70 regulation golf courses, about the same as New Mexico.

America it isn’t. But thanks to some Yankee ingenuity, the Netherlands pulled off a shocker Oct. 29 by thumping Canada and the United States down the stretch to win the Eisenhower Trophy at the 25th World Amateur Team Championship.

Led by individual champ Wil Besseling, Holland posted a 22-under-par total over four rounds at the De Zalze and Stellenbosch layouts in South Africa’s picturesque Winelands. Runner-up Canada was 20 under; defending champ United States was another shot back.

The Netherlands’ previous best showing at the Eisenhower had been ties for eighth in 1992 and ’94. The architects of the history-making victory are two Dutch Americans, Chris van der Velde and Gordon Machielsen.

When van der Velde became coach of Holland’s national team in 2001, Netherlands Golf Federation officials laughed at his lofty goals.

“I told them I’m half American, I played the European Tour. I said if I’m going to coach, I want to win,” said the Connecticut-born van der Velde, who has a Dutch father and American mother, and who played professionally in Europe for 11 years. “They said, ‘What do you want to win?’ I said I want to win Europe. I want to win as much as you can win.”

His attitude rubbed off. Joost Luiten won the Spanish Amateur and the German Amateur in 2004. Besseling finished third at the ’04 WATC in Puerto Rico. Tim Sluiter led Holland to victory in the 2005 European Boys Championship.

It was Machielsen, as the NGF director of player development, who identified the talent. Machielsen has Dutch parents but was born in Colorado, educated in the States and played for Holland’s national team.

Round 3 was Holland’s defining moment. Paired with Canada and the United States at Stellenbosch, it began the day tied for third, trailing Canada by three shots and the U.S. by two.

Netherlands’ players were not intimidated.

Playing with America’s Chris Kirk and two-time Canadian Amateur champ Richard Scott, Besseling outdueled the University of Georgia roommates with six birdies in an eight-hole stretch beginning at No. 7, shooting 66 to Kirk’s 70 and Scott’s 71. Luiten posted Holland’s other counting score, a 70 that matched those of America’s Trip Kuehne and Canada’s James Love.

That gave the Netherlands a two-shot lead over Canada, the U.S. and Wales after 54 holes, which it never relinquished.

Besseling, 20, shot 69-70-66-70 for a 13-under-par total that earned him the individual medal. He plans to remain an amateur for another year.

Luiten, 20, was sidelined by a shoulder injury for six weeks last summer, then went 22 under at the first stage of European Tour Q-School in September. The Eisenhower was his amateur swan song.

Sluiter, 17, contributed counting scores of 72 and 70 in the first two rounds. He’ll be a freshman at Southern California in fall ’07 and figures to carry the Netherlands banner again when the WATC visits Australia in 2008.

Holland will make that trip without van der Velde, who has spent the last couple of years shuttling between Amsterdam and Bend, Ore., where he and some partners have been building a golf course. Bend beckons full time and van der Velde is following.

But he leaves behind a blueprint of success for Netherlands golfers.

“They all believe in themselves,” van der Velde said. “We believe in them. And now the world has got to believe in them.”

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