As the sun set over this paradise nestled in the hills of the Costa del Sol, there was a palpable feeling that this was the beginning of some careers that will light up golf for years to come.
More than 250 of the game’s brightest young stars traveled from all corners of the world in the hope of claiming the Daily Mail World Junior Golf Championship crown.
Some of the competitors were not much bigger than his golf bag. However, they held their own on the Villa Padierna golf courses in Marbella, which were as challenging as they were beautiful, to produce three exciting days of action.
There were emotions and spills. Big changes on the field, but even bigger ones in the standings. Around every corner there was a story to tell; Even in the world of competitive junior golf, no two trips are the same.
Take Fraser Walters, who finished eight shots ahead of the field at six under par in the boys 12-13 competition.
The beautiful Villa Padierna resort in Marbella provided the stunning backdrop as more than 250 talented youngsters competed for the Daily Mail World Junior Golf Championship crown.
Fraser Walters finished eight shots ahead of the field to win the boys 12-13 competition.
The young Scot, who defeated golf legend Tiger Woods’ son Charlie in a tournament three weeks ago, celebrated the successful defense of his title, which he won in Portugal a year ago.
The 13-year-old may already be a serial winner, but the week wasn’t as easy for Walters as you might expect when looking at the standings.
‘People think you just go to competitions and do well. But when we got here we were in the hospital,” explained her mother, Christina.
‘Fraser has severe allergies, so just a few days ago he was in the hospital on an IV. He ate something and reacted badly. She couldn’t breathe.
We were thinking ‘Could I compete?’ and the next minute he was playing very well.
Fraser’s father Stephen added: “The day before the practice round we were in the hospital all night, we didn’t leave until 6am.”
Golf is a sport that runs through this family from Gullane, East Lothian, on the east coast of Scotland.
Stephen remains a capable recreational player, while you’re left with the suspicion that Christina is also a good player on the field, despite her attempts to downplay her ability. “I just fake it until I make it, have the conversation,” she jokes.
There was stunning scenery and sunshine to enjoy under the hills of the Costa del Sol.
Danish player Christian Photin (pictured) beat his best teammate Noah Lundskaer to claim the victory.
Also sitting at the table toasting Frazer’s success is her 11-year-old sister Stella, who finished third in the girls’ 10-11 competition.
Although victory eluded him this time, a beaming smile soon returns when Mail Sport asks him if he ever plans to usurp his brother.
‘They are ridiculously competitive… violently competitive! But they support each other,” Christina said. “When things go wrong, they help each other because they know it sucks.”
That sense of camaraderie on the field was not exclusive to the brothers.
Denmark’s Christian Photin, 15, found himself locked in a playoff with his “best friend” Noah Lundskaer after they both finished 13 over par.
In a dramatic turn, Lundskaer sent her four-foot putt narrowly wide at the first to give Photin her first tournament victory outside her homeland. He admitted, quite gracefully, that the victory was tinged with disappointment for his friend.
“Yesterday we were talking about it (a playoff) because I had a four-shot lead and on the first tee he said, ‘It could be fun in a playoff,'” Photin recalled.
‘It’s the second time I’ve been in a playoff, so the adrenaline wasn’t as much. I knew how to handle it a little more.
‘I didn’t see it coming, it was a four-footer, so I thought we’d get to the second hole. I could hear him slapping his legs and saying ‘No!’ and I was like ‘Damn, it failed.’ It was tough to see him miss a four-footer on the last one.
Photin, who also played in the European Young Masters, a competition won by Sergio Garcia and Rada Cabrera-Bello that took them to great heights in the professional game, traveled from North Zealand, Denmark, to compete.
Maisie Whittall, 15, (pictured) defeated Matilde Modesti in a tiebreaker to claim the trophy.
He dreams of one day emulating his hero and compatriot, Nicolai Hojgaard, and playing on the DP World Tour.
Photin wasn’t the only golfer to finish the challenging 54 holes with the same score as his opponent.
There was also joy in the playoffs for 15-year-old Maisie Whittall, who found herself caught in a two-way fight for the lead with her Italian playing partner Matilde Modesti.
A play-off hole was a new experience for the Worcestershire golfer, but not even the increased tension that accompanied it could break the stubborn Whittall’s rhythm.
“I actually felt pretty confident coming to the first tee because I birdied that hole early in the round,” said Maisie, who dreams of one day making a winning putt for Europe in the Solheim Cup.
“I thought, ‘Do what I did before and I’ll be absolutely fine.'” ‘She (Modesti) made the same mistake she made this morning. She was probably in her head a little bit, but I stayed calm.
‘When I was on the course yesterday and the day before yesterday it was really stressful. It was like a roller coaster. “I kept going, it takes a lot of resilience.”
The 250 competitors hope their three days in beautiful Marbella will be a springboard towards a successful golf career.
Maisie’s father Jason was a buggy driver for the week and admitted it was an emotional moment when his daughter finally made it big.
“She walks away and you wouldn’t know if she had a birdie or a quadruple bogey. “She never gives up,” Jason said.
‘You go through the absolute bell. You feel every shot, every missed putt. He had a tear in his eye when she won. She fought very hard because she was always behind and trying to catch up.’
Hopefully these aren’t the last dramatic moments on the golf course for these young stars.
BENJI KEEPS BOTHAM’S PROUD SPORTS TRADITION ALIVE
“Break it there, buddy,” says Benji Botham’s caddy.
Armed with his fairway wood, Benji duly obeys and hits his shot down the par-four sixth hole before stopping just in front of the green.
There are some words of congratulations from the gunman in the bag, Liam – or ‘dad’ as Benji knows him.
Benji is only seven years old, but he finds himself playing against kids a year older than him in the Daily Mail World Junior Golf Championships.
However, he holds his own and looks in great contact as Mail Sport joins the father and son duo for a few holes in their third and final round.
If you haven’t figured it out from the last name alone by now, it’s fair to say that Benji comes from a good sporting lineage.
Harley (left) and Benji (right) Botham were competing with their father Liam as a caddy.
He is the grandson of legendary English all-rounder Sir Ian Botham, while Liam represented Hampshire in county cricket before moving to rugby, where he played both codes.
Golf is perhaps the only sport in which the Bothams have no history at the professional level, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t all big fans of the game.
‘During the confinement we had the whole family around the table. We were sitting there and said: ‘If you could go back (start over), what would you do?’ Liam tells Mail Sport.
“Everyone around the table said they were going to play golf. For me it is the best game in the world.
‘Golf is fantastic because it involves a lot of discipline. They have to learn the rules, the etiquette, repair the shots on the green.’
You’d be hard-pressed to find a stronger advocate than Liam for kids being active and playing sports. It’s no surprise to learn that Benji has taken up other sports, including rugby and football, in addition to golf.
Botham’s active children maintain the proud family tradition of sporting prowess.
For now, however, cricket is off the menu: “it’s bad for golf, everything is backwards,” jokes Liam.
It has been three non-stop days for the 46-year-old, who also caddies for his six-year-old son Harley, under the beautiful sun of the Costa del Sol.
Liam, whose eldest son James won nine caps for Wales and played in the first Six Nations defeat against Scotland earlier this month, estimates he will clock nearly 70,000 steps during the three days of action at Villa Padierna.
But each of those steps is worth it, he says, to give his kids the best possible chance to progress in the game. Grandfather is also very interested in the couple’s progress, even if from afar.
“He’s in New Zealand preparing for the New Zealand Open,” Liam says. ‘He’s called me on Facetime every night just to check on them. He loves him.
‘I love watching children play. “We want these guys to try and we’ll give them every opportunity we can.”