ENCINITAS — In a few weeks Jonas Appel will don his lucky red and blue striped golf shirt for his second year of competition in the Callaway Junior Golf Tournament. Jonas is a kindergartener at Park Dale Lane Elementary School.
Last year Jonas was 5 when he placed 19th among 44 international golfers. Those who did better than him were all old guys — 6 years of age.
Jonas has been busy training for his second Callaway tournament, which opens July 12 at the Torrey Pines Golf Course.
After school he can be seen practicing on the putting green at the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course or hitting plastic golf balls into hula hoops strategically placed on the grass behind his Village Park home.
Young Jonas has the confidence of a pro as evidenced last year when a television reporter asked him how he thought he’d perform.
“I’m going to win the tournament!” he shouted.
Jonas first exhibited an interest in golf when his father, Jim Appel, took his sister and him to the Accenture Match Play Championship in La Costa in February 2006. He was two.
“Jonas was fascinated watching the pros hit the ball in the practice green,” Jim Appel remembers. “He shouted ‘Yea!’ when Jim Furyk putted a ball into the hole. Afterward Furyk said, ‘Hey, he’s good luck. Can I take him on the tour?’”
Later in the year Jim Appel took Jonas to Warner Springs Ranch where he played, and walked, nine holes in two hours despite an elevation of 3,000 feet.
“Afterwards he slept for two or three hours,” remembers his mother, Andrea Appel.
Shortly before his 4th birthday, Jim Appel took Jonas to Colina Park Golf Course, a public facility for children in San Diego.
“His first shot went right by the cup, and he almost got a hole in one,” Jim Appel said. “He tapped it in for a birdie.”
Already Jonas is an experienced golfer who’s played at Pacific Grove Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula; Sierra Star, Mammoth; Bishop Country Club, Bishop; Birch Hills Golf Course, Brea; Reidy Creek Golf Course, Escondido; Lake San Marcos Resort, San Marcos; and Tecolote Canyon Golf Course, San Diego.
He’s even held his own with adults.
At Trinity Alps, an executive course in Northern California, he shot a 46 while his grandfather, Jon Appel, scored a 48.
“My dad has been playing for more than 50 years and still shoots in the 80s and 90s,” said Jim Appel, adding that Jon Appel years earlier served as a marshal at tournaments featuring a much younger Tiger Woods.
Although it may be tempting to draw comparisons between Tiger and Jonas, there aren’t many.
Jonas is self-taught.
“At the Callaway Tournament parents asked who his coach was and where he took lessons,” Andrea Appel said. “I told them he learned by watching television and playing with his dad and grandparents.”
Another difference is that Jonas’ parents, who are both elementary school teachers, harbor no dreams of superstardom for their son.
“Sports should be fun,” Jim Appel said. “When I was growing up my brothers and I were very competitive but we played public courses, not country clubs. We also played other sports.”
Andrea Appel likes golf because it is a noncontact sport.
“Golf also requires manners, etiquette and good sportsmanship,” she said. “We enjoy the beauty of being in a natural environment. Every course is different.”
If Jonas does make a bad shot at the Callaway Tournament, he says he’ll follow advice he learned from his grandfather.
“He says the most important shot in golf is your next shot,” Jonas said. “I always hope to do better on that one.”