Bulgaria, Serbia just happy to play World Amateur Team

The Bulgarian contingent at the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey.

ANTALYA, Turkey – At least Harry Zervos’ Bulgarian boys had settled down, even if it didn’t help their scoreline that much. Still, what do you expect when his players only compete in four serious golf tournaments a year?

That’s right, four.

Bulgaria was lucky enough to be one of the nations to complete the second round of the World Amateur Team Championship. The Bulgarian trio of Lyubomir Kostov, Stanko Marinov and Todor Krastev improved eight shots on their opening round, returning a 26-over 168. They are 73 shots behind the United States, who were 15 under after playing just three holes of the second round.

World No. 1 Chris Williams birdied the first two holes of the PGA Sultan Course at Antalya when play was finally suspended at 6:25 pm.

An earlier six-hour delay because of thunder and lightening earlier in the day meant many teams didn’t get much play in. Twenty-four nations out of the 72 didn’t even start the second round, meaning it will probably turn into a 54-hole tournament.

It’s probably better that Bulgaria managed 18 holes on Day 2, but they could use all 72 holes. They need all the competitive rounds they can get.

We are used to crowded amateur schedules in the United States and Europe. Elite amateurs playing those circuits would get withdrawal symptoms if they were fed the same diet as Bulgaria.

“My players don’t get a lot of tournament play,” said Bulgarian team captain Harry Zervos, a Greek professional who took over the Bulgarian team three months ago. “This is just the fourth serious tournament Bulgaria has played in this summer. We have the Bulgarian Open, the Balkan Challenge Trophy, and we managed to get boys in the Junior Open Championship at Lytham this year. Now this.”

No wonder Bulgaria was 67th after Round 1.

“The boys were so nervous at the start of the round yesterday, that’s probably why we were many more over par for the front nine and not as bad over the back," said Zervos of Bulgaria beginning yesterday on the back nine and the trio was 31 over on that side, and 18-over on the other half.

“I mean Lyubomir was 13 over for his front nine, and only two over for his back nine. It’s understandable because this is a big deal to them. Other nations are used to standing on the first tee in big competitions, but not Bulgarians. We need more of this.”

Bulgaria is better off than some nations here. There are six 18-hole golf courses in the country and about 1,000 golfers. Compare that to Serbia and it’s clear why the World Amateur Team Championship is not exactly a level playing field.

Serbia has just two 9-hole golf courses and about 300 golfers. The Serbia Golf Association has to rely on private funds to fund its programs.

“Our players play in very few competitions,” said Nebojsa Lazic, Serbian team captain. “This is only the second time Serbia has played in the World Amateur Team, so we don’t come here with big hopes. Just letting the boys play in team competitions like this is a big thing for us.”

Cedomir Ilic had an advantage over his Serbia teammates. He has just graduated from Savannah State University, so he is used to playing competitive golf. “We are trying to find players born in Serbia who may have moved to another country and who play golf, because we don’t have a lot of players to choose from,” Lazic said.

“Things are getting better. The Balkan Challenge Trophy started last year and we’ve played in it twice, so we are getting more tournaments for players to play in, but we need more competitive golf.”

Clearly that isn’t a problem for many of the nations here in Turkey who take packed amateur schedules for granted. It’s one of the reasons why the World Amateur Team Championship serves an important purpose other than identifying the strongest amateur team in world golf.

While many nations turn up with eyes on lifting the Eisenhower Trophy, for others just competing in it is a big deal.

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