Date: June 17, 2014
Author: OneAsia

Veteran Stolz eyes next generation on OneAsia

Two-time OneAsia winner Andre Stolz is using the recovery time from a wrist injury to help steer the career of countryman Dimitrios Papadatos as he embarks on a life in professional golf.

Stolz, 44, has been caddying for Papadatos for over three months while his wrist heals from surgery, but the partnership extends beyond tournament play and the Australian veteran is advising his protege on how to handle himself off the course as much as on it.

“I’ve known Dimi for a long time and I have always thought he had a lot of talent and ability,” Stolz said of the 23-year-old.

“He has all the tools, but I thought he needed a bit more focus and guidance and so I offered to help.”

“It’s been great having Andre around and I’ve learnt so much from him,” said Papadatos. "It's an honour really.

“Having someone like him on your bag is like having an extra club. There are so many new courses that I am playing which he has already played several times … it really helps.”

With the OneAsia calendar in hiatus until August’s Fiji International, Papadatos and Stolz are in the Land of the Rising Sun this week for the Japan Golf Tour Championship Mori Building Cup at Shishido Hills Country Club’s West Course in Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.

Papadotos earned three starts in Japan by virtue of a surprise victory at the New Zealand Open in March, and Stolz — a winner on the Japan Tour in 2003 — will be there to manage, coach, mentor and caddy for his young charge.

Stolz first came across Papadatos when the youngster was making a name for himself in the junior ranks on Australia’s central east coast.

“He lives just up the road from me, about half an hour, but even as an amateur I wasn’t happy with what he was working on, what the coaches were telling him so I said ‘I don’t have much time on my hands but I want to step in. I can’t watch this anymore’,” said Stolz.

“He was a great player as early as 12 — he used to win a lot of stuff — but went off the rails a bit. We’d played a bit of golf together and it snowballed from there. It got really serious about three years ago. I’m doing everything for him at the moment, but it’s only because I’m out (injured) that I’m also caddying for him.”

Papadatos only picked up a club for the first time as a nine-year-old after finding a dusty set in a garage sale, but within four years he was playing off scratch and beating players twice his age.

“I’ve always liked my sports and liked playing team sports, but with golf you’ve only got yourself to blame when things go wrong,” said Papadatos. “It wasn’t long before I realised I really liked the game and wanted to have a serious go at it.”

Although he missed national selection in 2012, Papadatos planned to stay amateur for a while longer until Stolz talked him into turning professional at the beginning of last year, convinced he was wasting his time.

“There was no guarantee he would have made the national squad and while it’s great to travel around the world playing those nice amateur tournaments, I’m big on a player making long-term plans. It’s a good strategy and I didn’t like his strategy,” said Stolz.

The gamble paid off and within a year Papadatos finished in a share for third, two shots behind the winner, at the European Tour co-sanctioned Perth International, earning over $100,000 for the effort and a start in most OneAsia events through his ranking with the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Stolz missed the cut that week, and as his wrist started giving him more and more trouble decided to take a break.

“I’ve spent my whole life getting out of bed with it. I’ve always had problems with it, but from June last year it got worse and worse, driving me nuts, and thought I’d give it a break over Christmas.”

He thought he had healed in time for this year’s OneAsia season-opening Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia PGA Championship, but despite going seven under in the pro-am, deep down he knew it wouldn’t last.

He braved the first round, but couldn't continue and went home.

"They discovered I’d fractured a bone at some point, don’t know how I did it," he said. The prognosis was at least three months of no golf; six months before he could think about practicing seriously.

Two weeks earlier, from home, Stolz remotely helped steer Papadatos to victory at the New Zealand Open, talking daily to the youngster as he destroyed a classy field that included 20 of the Japan Tour's best.

After opening with pace-setting 68, Papadatos was leading by one after three rounds before firing a final-round 66 to win by four — and bank another cool $150,000.

"He is a bit of a slow starter and finishes like a steam train, but you don’t always have that luxury and when you get that morning tee time you need to take advantage of it," said Stolz.

"He had an early start and I gave him a big rev about it and he shot four under on a tough course in the morning.

"We talked about winning all week. A lot of people talk about the process and all that stuff, but we were just thinking about the trophy. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but it’s there for you so you have to find a way. “

Stolz knows all about winning. Every golfer dreams of winning on the PGA Tour, but Stolz has done that among the 10 professional titles he has gathered in a career everyone knows would have been even better if not for injury.

“When you get in that zone — I know, I’ve been there — you have to take advantage of it,” said Stolz.

“It isn’t always there, so take advantage every time you get the chance. He did that, he put on an absolute clinic the last day and smashed them — even when he’d already won. But it is important he remembers that. Winning sometimes isn’t fun — you can have a knot in your guts all day — the fun comes afterwards.”

Off the golf course, Papadatos relaxes by hitting the gym — regularly, as his buff physique will testify.

“I like the gym. It is my release from golf, rather than for golf,” he said, adding that he also enjoy music festivals.

Stolz is trying to keep his focus on golf, however, and to think big. While Papadatos also has his Asian Tour card, Stolz wants him in all OneAsia’s events to get him competing with the best for the biggest purses.

“It’s great that he has had this opportunity to play the OneAsia events for a million dollars. The longer you get bogged down playing small events, the harder it is to get out of them,” he said.

“We’re thinking big and making big plans.”