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scene in the Southland | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Dudes, Forget Your First Impressions of These Golfers

March 30, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Hey, dudes, welcome to Wade and Ben's Excellent Golf Adventure.

Wade Morris and Ben Stone are 14-year-old freshmen at North Hollywood High. People joke that they look like third-graders and get their clubs from Toys R Us.

Morris is 4 feet 8 and weighs 63 pounds, Stone 4-10 and 80 pounds. It's almost painful watching them carry their oversized golf bags.

But the only fools are those who underestimate their ability.

"I get good bets," Morris said. "I go out there and they'll think I'm 7 years old, and I take all their money."

Added Stone: "The clubs are as big as you are. They tell me that every day. It's all about technique. You need to know exactly how to hit a ball and you need good teaching from the beginning of your golf career."

Give Coach Steve Miller credit for not asking for their birth certificates when they tried out.

"They've got to be the smallest golfers in the City [Section]," Miller said. "They're small, but it doesn't stop them from being good golfers. They get on the course and everything is equal."

Thirty-five City Section schools in six leagues are fielding golf teams this season, including first-year or revived programs at Franklin, Reseda, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies and the USC Math and Science and Technology (USC MaST) magnet. The City finals will be played May 23-24 at Wilson Harding Golf Course in Griffith Park.

Ed Turner, a sophomore at Palisades, is the defending individual champion.

Defending champion Palisades, Hamilton, Granada Hills and Chatsworth are regarded as the favorites to win the boys' team championship, but North Hollywood might contend if its miniature golfers continue to improve.

Morris has become so passionate about golf that he once spent a whole day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., practicing his shots at Woodley Golf Course in Van Nuys.

"If I could, I'd stay there all night," he said.

Morris was born in South Africa and is a nonstop talker and showman. He has spiked blond hair and could be mistaken for Bart Simpson.

Morris has been playing No. 3 for North Hollywood, which is tied with Sylmar for first place in the City 4-A League.

He can drive a ball 200 yards from the tee and thrives on his accuracy in the fairways. The positive influence golf has on his life can be seen in his smile and enthusiasm.

"In my entire life, for three years now, that's all I think about," he said. "It keeps me out of trouble. Instead of being on the streets, I'm playing golf."

Stone is a step behind Morris in golf, but he's learning fast. He attends North Hollywood's Highly Gifted Magnet, which means he has a minimum IQ of 145. He's in the mold of "MacGyver" in building contraptions.

"We were working on chipping one day," Miller said. "His comment was, 'Everything comes easy to me except this.' "

Not surprisingly, Morris and Stone are each hoping for a growth spurt.

"I'm going to be 6 feet 3, you watch," Morris said.

Jared Fleisher, a golfing teammate, predicts the two will continue to surprise everyone.

"It's amazing they can beat bigger guys," Fleisher said. "They can compete and they can win."

Now if only someone who isn't 16 could figure out Wade and Ben's vocabulary.

"They call everybody dude," Miller said. "I think they call their parents dude. At least it's a good four-letter word."

*

Eric Sondheimer is The Times' Valley/Ventura County columnist. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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