A splash at the links

HARRIS – The connection between two champion athletes was staged as a challenge Thursday at Sweetgrass Golf Club, not to determine who was better at one thing but to have some fun.

As expected, Symetra Tour player Cydney Clanton won the 150-yard closest to the pin shot from the ninth fairway over two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Pete Vanderkaay, by a large margin. “It was a good shot for me,” said Vanderkaay, who was guest speaker at Thursday night’s pro-am dinner at Island Resort and Casino.

They also engaged in an impromptu putting contest at the practice green, which Clanton also won. Onlookers said the two should meet in a swim race as well, with Clanton trying to finagle a handicap. Vanderkaay said he would probably spot her about 10 seconds in the 200-meter race, with Clanton also asking if he would wear weights.

Vanderkaay, who also has two bronze medals in three Olympics, said “it is hard to articulate” what it means to win a gold medal. “There were so many hours of training. To even get a medal, and to represent the United States, is a great honor.”

He said there were so many great experiences during his swim career, noting “they all rank up there pretty high.” He said winning gold “is definitely icing on the cake.”

Vanderkaay, a native of Rochester, Mich. and a Big Ten swim champion for the University of Michigan, retired after the 2012 Games in London. He is now making some speaking appearances and at age 29 is looking into other plans.

He said swimming in the Olympics is no different than trying to hit a tee shot in golf. “Whatever sport you are in, you tune everything else out. It is a tunnel vision mentality. You are competing. You are there to do what you do. You just find a way to relax.”

Clanton had a much easier time relaxing in the moment Thursday, especially after the dramatic victory she had Sunday at the Four Winds Invitational in South Bend, Ind. She went seven playoff holes before sinking a 10-foot birdie putt to top Marissa Steen, who is also at Sweetgrass this week. Marina Alex fell out of the playoff on the third hole.

While that putt secured the victory, Clanton said “the (four-five foot) putt that meant the most was the putt that got me into the playoff” on the final hole of regulation Sunday. “That just gave me the opportunity.

“I don’t think anyone can imagine what their first win would be like. It is such a special moment.”

Clanton, who said the victory probably will not sink in until she returns home next week and gets to celebrate with family and supporters, understands what Vanderkaay is talking about when it comes to focusing on the goal.

“I tried to stay as positive as I could the whole time and stay in the moment,” she said, adding “patience is the key. I finally got everything clicking and showed everything I was working on is correct.”

Vanderkaay also discussed patience during his speech that evening. “If you work hard for a long time, it will pay off. You just have to be patient,” he said.

He also said “struggle (hard work and practice) precedes the glory,” and told the golfers “you owe it to yourself to enjoy it.”

On a related tourney note, Justin Medlock is enjoying his time away from football while hoping to get another chance to kick in the National Football League. He is the caddie for his fiance, Hannah Jun, this weekend while waiting to see what happens in his free agency bid.

Medlock, released by the Carolina Panthers 11 games into last season, tried out for the Detroit Lions recently. “I had a good workout with the Lions and I thought I would get signed,” he said after Thursday’s pro-am banquet. “I’m mentally and physically trying to stay ready. I’ve always been a journeyman.”

He had workouts during the 2012 postseason with San Francisco, Seattle and the New York Giants but admitted he wasn’t in the proper shape at that stage. He is kicking four-five days a week now and caddies when he has time, noting “in the NFL you can get called any time. It was boom, boom, boom. I wish I was better prepared (for those playoff workouts).”

While waiting for that call, he said “I’m just preparing like I’m playing for the season. I’ll probably give it another year or two to see what happens.

Medlock, an All-American kicker at UCLA in 2006, said his highlight with the Panthers came in Chicago when he kicked five field goals, including a 45-yarder with 1:30 to play that was topped moments later by the Bears.

Meanwhile he is doing all he can to help Jun. During Wednesday’s pro-am he walked ahead on every tee to provide her with a target area, and put markers at various points around the green for her approach shots. He also helped Jun, and her pro-am partners, line up putts.

During the tournament, he has a simple plan. “I want to help her succeed and not try to get in the way,” he said. “It is her decision ultimately. I give her an input.”

He uses his football training and experience to also help Jun, and in the process gave advice to young athletes. “You have to learn how to focus in when the pressure means so much,” he said. “You really need to focus on technique when the pressure comes in.”