Perseverance pays off

Local golfer to be new face of Nike ad campaign

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It's awfully hard to think of any reason at all that James Samuelsen doesn't deserve the good fortune golf has brought him over the past six months. 

The Rapid City Stevens senior pulled through at the Class AA state golf tournament in Sioux Falls with a ninth-place finish just a year after not even qualifying for the year-end event. Samuelsen credits a Nike Junior Golf Camp at Pebble Beach, Calif., with that turnaround. But that wasn't the only benefit Samuelsen received as a result of playing with 64 other players from around the world on what he calls "the most beautiful golf course in the world, ever." Samuelsen is one of the newest faces of Nike's Junior Golf Camps.

"I went to this camp and while I was there a photographer from Nike came and took pictures of all the campers for the web site and promotions and everything," Samuelsen said. "He saw me and he liked me and one of the things we talked about was wearing Nike gear."

A lifelong devotion to a certain shoe company paid off.

"I don't think he's ever worn a sneaker brand other than Nikes," James' mother, Sally, said with a laugh. "Ever since he was just a little kid that's all he's worn."

And that day at Pebble Beach was no exception.

"I had a Nike hat and a Nike shirt on," James remembered. "So they handed me a Nike golf club and started having me hit balls for about a half an hour. I guess they really liked the pictures and decided to use them."

At first, the pictures were just to be used for camp brochures, but less than a month ago Sally got a call from Nike saying that they were going to use James' photos for its national ad campaign starting possibly as early as February of this year.

No, he's not going to be making Tiger Woods money as a result - in fact, he won't make anything - but his mug will be right next to the greatest player in the world's in some of the advertisements. 

"I guess if you're 17 and a golfer things don't get a whole lot better than that," James' local golf pro, Craig Hatch, said.

It's always weird how circumstances can come together in such an unexpected way. Samuelsen struggled through his junior season on the course, the first he had experienced without the guidance of his father, John. John Samuelsen was the first person to put a golf club in his son's hands, and while his death due to early onset Alzheimer's disease is something that his family will always deal with, that first year for James was particularly difficult. Sally Samuelsen saw her son struggling with the game he loved and wanted to help in any way she could.

"I'm no golf expert or anything," Sally Samuelsen said. "But I know that it's such a mental game. I just asked James if there was anything I could do to help. To his credit, he got on the internet and found the Nike camp and decided to try it."

James, who hopes to play college golf, came back from the camp with a newfound confidence and perspective.

"It was a lot more fun and a lot more helpful than I ever thought it would be," James said. "I talked with my local instructor, Craig Hatch, and he said it sounded like a good idea. It turned out that it was just a great experience."

Hatch recognized that getting away from Rapid City could be very beneficial to James, a student of Hatch's since he was 9 years old.

"Sometimes it can be really good to go somewhere and hear how somebody else says it," Hatch said of golf instruction. "It's also good to expose him to some other kids his age so he can see just how high the bar is. There are some really good kids out there, and sometimes that motivates them when they get home.

"In addition to that, James is a sharp enough kid that he could tell me some of the things that he learned and we could work on them together."

James' high school coach, Phil Hunt, couldn't have been happier.

"He just had a terrific state tournament," Hunt said. "I was really happy to see him play so well. He's such a good kid, really a great kid."

Sally Samuelsen's pride in watching her son deal with the adversity that he's dealt with over the past couple of years is evident.

"The thing about James that makes me so proud is the way he's stayed focused and positive," Sally said. "He could have gone the other way and given up when things were hard, but he stayed with it. Good scores and things like that don't really matter to me. His perseverance is what makes me proud as a mother. He just never gave up."

And don't expect being in a national ad campaign for the world's biggest sneaker manufacturer to go to James' head - at all.

"Anybody that knows his parents knows that won't happen," Hatch said. "His dad was one of the most level-headed people you could ever meet, and his mother wouldn't ever promote any behavior like that. It all starts at home.

"You know the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. He's just a really good kid."

One that has experienced enough already to realize what's important and what's not.

"He's had a few golf seasons where things didn't exactly go his way," Hatch said. "And he kept it all in perspective. I think he understands a little more than a lot of kids just how lucky he is."