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Christian Crabill

Mount Zion's Christian Crabill has been invited to participate in a PGA Tour week-long academy in conjunction with the Ryders Cup.

DECATUR — As someone who believes there is vast untapped potential among Decatur’s best golfers, I’ve been preaching that to discover it people must be willing to play outside their comfort zone.

Play on unfamiliar courses.

Play against better competition

Play while facing a different kind of pressure.

Not everyone is willing to accept that challenge, and that is fine. Golf is a great sport even if it is no more than a weekly round with friends.

But while Decatur currently lags far behind other communities in its high school golf feeder programs — apologies to coaches and players who are out there trying their best — we do have some breakout young players who are getting better precisely because they are willing to accept those challenges.

One of them is Christian Crabill, who just turned 17 and who is finishing his junior year at Mount Zion.

Because of his fearless quest to improve, twice in the last year he has bravely stepped outside his comfort zone and, by the end of this summer, colleges will be bombarding him with attention.

Last summer at 16 he became the youngest golfer to ever play in the Signature Cup match play competition that pairs the best golfers from Decatur with the best from Bloomington-Normal.

And just recently he received an once-in-a-lifetime invitation from the PGA. Crabill will be one of 96 golfers from the United States (48 boys, 48 girls) to attend the 2012 Ryder Cup Junior Golf Academy July 1-8 at the PGA Center for Golf Learning & Performance at Port St. Lucie, Fla.

For eight days he will learn, play and compete, often under the watchful eye of past United States Ryder Cup captains. The PGA has yet to say who will participate, but for last year’s program Lanny Wadkins, Billy Casper and Dow Finsterwald served as guest instructors.

Imagine being 17 and having your game critiqued by the likes of Paul Azinger, Ben Crenshaw and Raymond Floyd.

“I hope Ray Floyd is there,” Crabill said. “He designed the Red Tail Run course and I play there all the time. That would be kind of cool.”

Crabill is wide-eye excited about this opportunity, in part because he has become used to playing in tournaments away from the comforts of home and realizes this adventure can only make him better.

“It’s a first-time experience and I’m sure it will be a little nerve-wracking going down there,” he said. “But once I’m there I’ll adapt.”

When asked specifically about playing outside his comfort zone, Crabill just smiled and shrugged his big shoulders. “I’ve been doing that all my life,” he said.

Crabill is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and if you ask him how far he hits the golf ball, he shrugs and smiles again.

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“300,” he says.

Yeah, except whenever he hits it farther.

Last summer on the first tee in his Signature Cup debut, Crabill pushed aside the nerves and let his high arcing swing take over, launching a tee shot through the rain that settled in the middle of the fairway about 350 yards away.

But Crabill spends more time honing shots that travel short distances.

“I’ve worked on chipping and putting,” he said. “You have to be able to get up and down.”

The PGA will roll out the red carpet for golfers attending the Ryder Cup Junior Academy. All expenses are paid. Clothing sizes have been collected and golfers can expect to be nicely attired. There are dinners with pros and plenty of chances to grow socially.

In fact, the PGA expects as much.

Golfers must sign an agreement to adhere to a strict code of conduct. Anyone who strays will be sent home immediately and their family will be billed for all expenses.

Crabill is already focused on the wide array of learning he’ll be offered.

The PGA lists “strategic coaching,” swing analysis, physical evaluation, sessions on fitness and nutrition, individual instruction, match play rules briefing, stroke and match play competitions and skills challenges among the items of the busy agenda.

And there will be a session that deals directly with the history of the Ryder Cup.

By the time he returns, Crabill figures he’ll be loaded from his size 13 golf shoes to the crown of his Ryder Cup golf cap with information and memories.

Regretfully, he won’t be able to compete in the Decatur Men’s City Amateur tournament this summer.

In order to get more national exposure in his quest to land a college scholarship, he’ll be playing in a major junior tournament out of state.

It’s part of his willingness to play beyond his comfort zone that has already set him apart.

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