Born in Eritrea Robel came to the USA at a young age and settled in Orlando, Florida where the setting and atmosphere for golf was excellent. It also helped that one of the greatest golfers ever Tiger Woods lived there. Eri-International sports had an opportunity to speak with Robel Woldegabriel at length about how he got into this sport and his current success at the collegiate level. He recently won a tournament helping his school get first place in the 2nd Annual VUU Fall Invitational. There was a two-hole play-off to determine the top three medalist for the tournament and 1st place Medal went to Robel Woldegabriel. According to his coach, "The team showed a lot of patience and control to post the kind of round they did," said VUU Head Golf Coach E. Lee Coble. "Again, I am very proud of the way the team stepped up to once again shoot a 5 over par round of 293."
Robel Standing second from the left (looking at the picture on your screen)
Meanwhile, Virginia Union University's golf team, winner of its last two tournaments and the highest Division II finisher at the HBCU Challenge, is currently ranked 44th in the nation statistically by GolfStat. The Panthers are averaging a score of 74.5 through the first three tournaments, the highest such score in recent memory for the program. The Panthers finished third overall in the HBCU Challenge and Eritrean golfer Robel Woldegabriel has a lot to do with it. Follow Robel's interview with Eri-International sports and encourage other Eritrean youth to take up this mentally tough sport that can also be a relaxing activity for the mind and soul. Robel talks to us about possibly representing Eritrea and his passion for the Eritrean flag runs deep as Eri-International sports spent a lengthy amount of time during last year's UCI Cycling championships that took place in Richmond, VA. Here is the interview in its entirety. Thank you Robel for giving us your time.
1. First could you be kind enough to introduce yourself to us?
· I am Robel Woldagbriel and I am 21 years old. I was born in Asmera, Eritrea and I moved to the U.S. with my family when I was 12 years old. Now my family stays in Orlando, FL and I go to school at Virginia Union University and member of the Golf Team.
2. What made you decide to participate in a sport that is not common among black folks even more Eritreans?
· First of all I never had any expectations to play this game especially coming from back home, but this game is very unique and because it’s an individual sport and requires mental strength I wanted to give it a try. My high school coach was the one that introduced me to golf and I told her I didn’t like golf and that it was a boring sport at first. I then went to visit my neighbor’s house whose name was Paulson to ask him about his thoughts on this game and how I can try to get involved. He knew how much I loved soccer so he told me a story about a guy who moved from Nigeria to U.S. and wanted to play soccer but couldn’t. He started to play basketball and made it to NBA. That helped me to open my mind and try something new and I thought that it would be a good opportunity. Since then I have fallen in love with the game of Golf. My high school helped me to join a program called the (OMYGA) Orlando Minority Youth Golf Association and this program has helped me to become a college athlete and still helps me to become a better golfer.
3. You got a scholarship to college and what makes it even more unique is that it is an HBCU school, why did you pick Virginia Union University to continue your career?
· When I graduated high school, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of coaches from many universities and the coach from Virginia Union was among them. I was impressed by how they communicated with me and I really liked the entire coaching staff from the get go. They always were there to help you get better as long as you put the effort in. I also wanted to experience something new outside of Florida for a change.
3. Growing up in Orlando, Florida, did you want to pursue other sports?
· Yes I have always wanted to play soccer especially growing up in Eritrea but I moved to the U.S.A at a young age and I realized that soccer isn’t as popular as other sports even though I had a passion for it. I even had the opportunity to play soccer in middle school and high school, but I didn’t see a lot of future with soccer for myself and so I decide to give it a chance with golf.
4. What are your future plans in helping to grow the sport among minorities but even more in the attempt to get more Eritreans to play this unique sport?
· This is a very unique type of game. It’s not like other sports where you can just go out and play anywhere. To play this game, it requires a lot of time, dedication and effort. I would love to see young Eritrean kids give it a try even though it’s not popular among the Eritrean communities just yet. I think that’s what makes it hard for Eritreans to pick up the sport. I would like to share my skills and knowledge and help develop the sport among Eritreans. My future plan is to set an example for those kids out there who would like to try this sport. I want to educate them that it’s possible to play whatever you want as long as you put the effort into it. I know it may sound impossible but I would like to see Golf as part of Eritrean events, & Festivals everywhere including in Eritrea. It only requires two people to start a tournament and I am sure that once people understand it they will be very interested in it.
5. Most people say this is a rich person’s sport, however if people try it anyone can play, what avenues are out there that you are aware of that can help young people pursue the sport?
· To me it doesn’t make sense when people assume that it’s just a rich person’s sport. Even though it is costly there are ways in which the sport has become affordable these days. Yes, I understand that it’s not the type of sport where you can go anywhere outside to play as you will need a golf course but nowadays there are a lot of communities with golf courses willing to involve kids in this game and people just need to give it a chance even though it’s a very difficult game to play. However, there are lots of programs especially for minorities that want to get involved. The amount of minorities playing the sport is very low and opportunities for minorities are available in a lot of places.
6. Can you talk a little bit about the technical aspects of the game from your own perspective?
· Well this game is a very interesting game. I would like to emphasize that it is mentally 90% while the physical aspects of it are low. This game requires a lot of patience and practice, because it takes about 4 to 5 hours to finish an 18 hole round. Because it is a mental game, it’s very important to stay away from negative thoughts while playing it. You must focus on the golf game at that moment at 100% to have a good chance of doing well.
7. You have mentioned to me in discussions that there is a possibility that you may be able to represent the Eritrean national team, why?
· When I was in high school, I made a lot of positive accomplishment with this game. I also happen to have a lot of supporters as I picked up the game really quick. During high school, while I was in the 11th grade, I was told there is a good chance I could play at a college level. That gave me hope to work harder and I was able to make a huge improvement in my game. Once I got to my senior year I won all my regular season tournaments and become player of the year at the OMYGA program, and at that time the PGA (Professional Golf Association) were discussing bringing golf back to the Olympics and my coaches and mentor told me you should think about representing your country one day. I have always wanted to become a professional golfer but most importantly I would like to represent my country of Eritrea.
8. Can you speak about college life and your academics and the importance of school when pursuing athletics?
· Being a student-Athlete is not an easy task, but at the same time it’s a worthwhile challenge if you could balance both academics and athletics at the same time. When I moved here from Eritrea, my main goal was to get a good education and have a better career opportunity for the future. I never thought I would play golf but education helped me in many ways to develop this game. For example I have a golf scholarship and an academic scholarship and if I fail to manage one of them I could lose the scholarship so they both depend on each other. It is important to be a good student and at the same time to be a competitive athlete.
9. You seem to be proud of Eritrea and as a golfer, many people can also be proud of your accomplishments, how do you plan to transfer the golf knowledge to other Eritreans?
· Yes when you are aware of where you come from, it can give you a sense of pride. I plan on sharing my knowledge and skills with others who may be interested. I love golf and I hope to see it grow among Eritreans.
10. If there is anything else you would like to share with us please feel. Thank you!
Thank you to Eri-International sports Blog for giving me this opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge on the sport of Golf.
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