Micha Golod was scared. He heard the news and saw the photos.
Hundreds of people had been killed by Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
Bucha is 10 kilometers from where Golod lived – until six weeks ago.
The 15-year-old loves golf, but he had no idea how much golf loved him. Enough to save him from Ukraine and bring him to the United States on March 11.
The incredible journey of Golod, whose first name is Mykhailo, will come to Naples this week when he plays in the 26th edition terracotta invitationa tournament for the best male amateurs in Naples National Golf Club from Friday to Sunday. Admission to the event is free.
“It’s been good on one side and bad on the other,” said Golod, who is ranked 434th in the world, of his experience over the past six weeks. “It’s been good here. I’m training as much as I can. It’s been great for me so far. I see improvement.
“My family who are still in Ukraine, it has been difficult for me to stay together. Fortunately, I can still talk to them and continue to communicate with Facetime and the Internet. It is really difficult for me to be away from the family for the first time in my life.”
Golod is joined by New Zealand’s David Leadbetter Academy coach David Louys-Moroney and is staying with a local couple this week.
Help Misha Golod come to the United States
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall first documented Golod heartbreaking situation on March 3. In the days that followed, the golf world came together, raising funds and awareness to help Golod come to the United States.
Renowned instructor David Leadbetter offered Golod a full scholarship for his golf academy and arranged accommodation. Global Golf Post founder and American Junior Golf Association board member Jim Nugent had organized a fundraiser, which raised thousands of dollars from average golfers.
On March 11, Leadbetter arrived at the Orlando airport to meet Golod and his mother, Vita. That ended a 54-hour, 5,000-mile trek that started south of Kyiv, where he is from. Golod left his father, who had to stay, and after a few days his mother returned to Ukraine.
“You’ve read what’s happening in Ukraine, and it’s just terrible,” Leadbetter told Golf Digest. “You feel so helpless and there’s really nothing you can do right now.
“Then we saw Misha’s story and we realized, ‘Well, maybe we can do something.'”
Since then, Golod has been an honorary Players Championship holder at Ponte Vedra Beach, watched practice rounds at The Masters, and was honored at The Masters banquet at the Golf Writers Association of America banquet.
“It was absolutely amazing to be an honorary host of The Players and to meet all the participants and then go to Augusta,” he said. “I’m really grateful to everyone.”
Golod isn’t in America just for the awards. He’s been working on his game and recently competed in an American Junior Golf Association event. The Terra Cotta, which had great champions Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed play in the past, is the following.
“I try to improve as much as I can,” he said. “I hope to have highlights on the golf course.
“It was not my best performance (in the AJGA tournament). I had hardly played in a tournament for three months. For me, Terra Cotta is going to be my second event here. I hope to show my best golf at course I will enjoy the moment and take advantage of the opportunity to play Terra Cotta.”
Tournament chairman Denny Glass read Golod’s story and is friends with Nugent, so he contacted him and then spoke with Leadbetter about inviting three-time Ukrainian junior champion Golod to play in the Terra Cotta.
“He’s a ranked player,” Glass said of Golod, who became the first Ukrainian golfer to play in the US Junior Amateur last year. “He’s not just a kid who can hit the ball. He’s in the 400s in the world rankings, which is one of our criteria anyway. I spoke to David and sent him an invitation , and Misha took over afterwards.”
“I’ve heard of this tournament before,” Golod said. “I heard it’s a very, very high level tournament with probably the highest ranked players. I got an invite from Denny Glass which was amazing for me to get an invite. I don’t haven’t played many events in the US”
“Sometimes I can catch nostalgic feelings”
Naturally, Golod’s mind is often not in the United States, even though his body is.
“Sometimes I can get nostalgic feelings,” he said. “I’ve practically lived in Ukraine all my life. I remember all the places, the cities. I see them being destroyed right now. It’s just devastating.
“If you look at the clubhouse, my clubhouse, I’ve seen the photos and the videos. The clubhouse is just destroyed, the place where I practically learned to play golf.”
Golod’s parents are at home in Kyiv, and for now, are relatively safe, but in other parts of Ukraine, news of atrocities remains.
“It’s genocide, and it continues,” he said.
Sport is a respite for many, which makes them forget their daily lives. This is true for Golod.
“It’s pretty much one of the few things that can help right now,” said Golod, who is still finishing his Ukrainian homework remotely but will be in school this fall. “I’m very grateful to have a chance. I can do what I love in Florida, which has been the biggest thing so far.”
What would it be without golf?
“It’s hard to explain in words to be fair,” he said. “It comes straight from the heart. It was awesome and I’m very, very grateful to everyone who showed their support.
“I meet golf people that I would never meet. I didn’t think I was going to come to the United States. I get invites to amazing tournaments, amazing venues, and I can go pro. That has been great and definitely an amazing way to think about something else and help me improve my golf.
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at [email protected] Support local journalism with this special subscription offer to https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/