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ON THE GREEN

Course Correction

Injury Inspired Seymour to Return to California, Focus on Golf Game

August 23, 2000|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nick Seymour calls it a lucky break--a strange way to describe the bicycle accident that broke his collarbone and changed the direction of his golf career.

It happened in June, 1998, a few weeks after Seymour completed his freshman year at Oklahoma State and days after he finished seventh in the Southwestern Amateur Championship.

Riding through his Tustin neighborhood on a BMX bike, Seymour attempted to jump a narrow planter. It was a stunt he'd pulled off dozens of times, but this time, his rear wheel caught on a curb. He flew across the planter, down several stairs and crashed headfirst into the pavement.

A concussion accompanied the broken collarbone and blurred Seymour's memory of the accident, but the Foothill High graduate is crystal clear about how it has helped him refocus on the golf course.

The injury was a significant factor in his decision to leave Oklahoma State, a perennial national golf power, and transfer to upstart Long Beach State. Coach Bob Livingstone expects Seymour to make an immediate impact and has high hopes for the team.

Seymour had battled homesickness his freshman year in Oklahoma, but got through it by focusing on golf. Unable to swing a club for nearly six months because of the injury, Seymour redshirted his second season.

The time off got him thinking about California, his family and friends and the beach he likes to visit three or four times a week. It also opened his eyes to his surroundings.

"It was like culture shock," Seymour said. "You see guys walking to class in Wranglers, boots and cowboy hats. It was different. It's not so much that I didn't like it there, I just missed being in California."

He returned at the beginning of this summer with a fully healed collarbone and his golf game has taken off since his arrival.

Last month, he took a lead into the final round of the Long Beach City Championship and finished fifth. He finished in the top 20 at the Long Beach Open and then qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship, which began Monday at Baltusrol in New Jersey. He shot 71-75--146 in the stroke-play qualifying rounds and advanced to the 64-player match-play portion, which begins today.

"I'm striking it real well right now," Seymour said. "When tournaments come around, I feel like I can turn it on. I feel a lot more comfortable here [in California]."

The decision to go to Oklahoma was a hasty one to begin with.

Seymour, an accomplished local junior golfer and two-time high school All-Orange County selection by The Times, did not make much of a name on the national scene. He received minimal interest from college coaches during his senior year, but burst into the spotlight after graduating from Foothill in 1998.

That summer, he won an AJGA tournament in Oregon, placed third in another AJGA tournament and made the second round of match play at the U.S. Junior Championship.

"He was a late bloomer," said Jeff Seymour, Nick's father. "That isn't such a bad thing, because if you peak too early, you can burn out."

Seymour, 19, is a year younger than most in his class. Born in Australia, he moved to the U.S. when he was 5 and in the middle of his first year of school. The overlap in school systems led to Seymour being bumped up a grade when he arrived in the states.

"So he was a 17-year-old going to his freshman year in college," Jeff Seymour said. "Kids mature at different ages, but that's still a little young to be that far from home."

But the teenager wanted to go.

He had visited the Stillwater, Okla., campus and was impressed by a golf program that had won eight national titles and advanced to the NCAA finals 52 consecutive times.

The team had its own golf course and driving range. They flew on private charter planes to tournaments and played in the top tournaments in the country. It was too much to pass up.

"It was kind of overwhelming," Seymour said. "Coach brought this book out and was like 'We have all these national titles and conference championships.' I was like 'Yeah.' "

He worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman but struggled under the spotlight of playing high-caliber national tournaments. Holder replaced him just before the NCAA regionals.

"It's pretty hard to bite off new school, new culture and all those issues and try to play on a prominent team," Holder said. "We were a little short-handed so we pressed him into playing. He did OK, but I think the pressure got to him a little bit. Looking back, we probably should have redshirted him his freshman year."

Seymour returned to the West Coast for the summer looking to get back into top form by playing several major amateur tournaments. The Southwestern Amateur got him on track, but his spirit quickly went crashing into the pavement along with his collarbone.

When Seymour returned to school injured the next year, Holder saw a different person.

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