“The Short Game” has been played many, many times at the Cehulik household.
The Netflix documentary chronicles the lives of eight child golf prodigies and their journeys through the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf Foundation World Championship, the largest and most prestigious event for players 12 years old and younger.
Now in its 18th year, more than 1,500 boys and girls from over 50 countries compete at the renowned Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina to determine who will become the next world champion.
Among the stars of the film was Allan Kournikova, half-brother of former tennis star Anna Kournikova. The four-time world champion won his second of three straight titles in 2012 and also took home the 10-year-old division crown in 2015. He has achieved a level of success in his young golf career that is typically something only in dreams.
But this year, Lockport’s Robbie Cehulik was right there alongside Kournikova and the rest of the golfers in the field of 12-year-olds as they teed off to start the first round of competition Thursday.
“We watched it last year,” said Cyd Cehulik, Robbie’s mom, “but we never thought we’d actually be a part of it.”
Robbie’s journey in the game of golf started no differently than Kournikova’s. Both have been playing since they could first hold a club.
“I have pictures of him from one, one-and-a-half years old holding those plastic sets,” Cyd Cehulik said. “He never gave it up. It was his favorite toy, and his dad likes to golf so he would work with him all the time.”
The first golf memory for Robbie came not long after.
“When I was about 3 I was at my grandma and grandpa’s house and they gave me plastic golf clubs,” Robbie said. “They told me to ‘show them what you can do.’ ”
He began competing in U.S. Kids Golf at 9 years old, when his parents started looking for more ways to get him involved.
“I just Googled kids tournaments and U.S. Kids came up,” Cyd said. “I wanted to get him into more tournaments and just learning more that aspect of it because he’s a competitive kid, and the U.S. Kids Canadian Tour was the closest.”
Players from the U.S. and Canada participate in the tour, with most of the tournaments taking place over the border in Fort Erie and Niagara Falls.
Robbie achieved priority status to the world championship in June due to his first-place finish in the U.S. Kids Niagara Canada Local Tour’s spring season. The success started early in April at the International Country Club of Canada, where he shot a 78 and won first place following a three-hole playoff. He finished in second in the other five tournaments of the season.
Those are just a few of the many highlights in what has been Robbie’s best and busiest summer of golf yet.
He qualified for the Buffalo District Golf Association Match Play Tournament and New York State Golf Association Junior Amateur Championship (which he opted out of because of the trip to Pinehurst), finished third at the Web.com Pro-Am Junior Tournament at Peek n’ Peak and moved onto the PGA Drive, Chip & Putt Sub Regional at Turning Stone Casino and Resort near Syracuse on Aug. 16.
“I think it’s just focusing on my game,” said the 5-foot-4 Robbie, who has a handicap of six. “Before when I wasn’t doing so well, I was wondering about how other people were doing. But then my dad and mom told me to worry about my own game. Just try and get your score better.”
Robbie plays four or five rounds a week on average at Niagara County Golf Course as a junior member or at Shelridge Country Club. He also joined the Western New York chapter of the Junior PGA last year. He’s currently in third place this season.
“This summer’s been really good,” his mother said. “He’s got to play at some beautiful private and public courses. We’ve been so impressed with every country club and people that he deals with.”
That’s also one of the things Robbie has enjoyed most.
“Going out and being out on the course and meeting new people,” he said. “I get to be out on the course in complete silence. I get to do it on my own.”
Unless he has his dad, Dennis, caddying, which he did during Robbie’s U.S. Kids Golf season.
“I like how I get to figure it out myself because I would get mad if my dad gives me the wrong club or length,” Robbie said. “Sometimes I ask him, but it’s more just asking him for the length and then I know which club I need. Sometimes if I don’t know a certain shot, like to run it up or fly it, I’ll ask him, too.”
Dennis Cehulik should probably be the one asking for pointers, though. Robbie beat him for the first time at the end of last year.
“I beat him by a few strokes,” Robbie said. “I always remind him. After I win I’ll go into the pro shop at Niagara County (Golf Course) and tell the guy there that I beat my dad, and then I’ll point at him through the window so he knows I’m talking about him.”
So who’s better?
“Currently I am,” Robbie said, without any hesitation.
“He never really had a coach until last year, but he really picked it up from his dad,” Cyd Cehulik said. “He watches movies, videos, the golf channel.”
In particular, he likes to watch his favorite golfer, Rickie Fowler. And it’s not just because of his fashion sense, though Robbie does own a pair of pink pants and green shorts.
“I like how he swings,” he said. “He swings like me with a flat backswing.”
Robbie is entering eighth grade at St. John Lutheran School in North Tonawanda and hopes to continue on at Canisius or St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute next school year. He plays soccer, basketball and volleyball at school (since there’s no modified golf team), but his mom considers him a one-sport kid in a nontraditional sense.
“When one season’s over, it’s hard to get him interested in the others,” she said. “Except in the winter, because he does get some swings in at the golf dome.”
Clyde Burmaster, the vice chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, and the Legislature are planning on presenting Robbie with a proclamation of achievement when he returns from the world championships in August.
Robbie wasn’t too concerned with that heading into the week. He was just looking forward to “going to Pinehurst and having fun.”
Story topics: Allan Kournikova/ Anna Kournikova/ Clyde Burmaster/ Cyd Cehulik/ Dennis Cehulik/ golf/ Lockport/ Niagara County Golf Course/ Rickie Fowler/ Robbie Cehulik/ Shelridge Country Club/ U.S. Kids Golf