When walking around the Club at Old Hawthorne, you expect to see a couple of retired Columbia residents finishing up a round of golf or maybe some local college students taking a break after classes. What you might not expect to hear is the lilt of a Scottish accent as you practice at the putting green.
To some, that might seem out of place. For sophomore Rory Franssen and freshman Jamie Stewart, it’s a familiar sound. Off to a great start in their collegiate golfing careers, both Franssen and Stewart have come to the University of Missouri from Scotland to hone their golfing skills.
Franssen has hopes of following in the footsteps of his fellow Scotland native Russell Knox, who is now on the PGA Tour after graduating from Jacksonville University in 2007. Because of Knox’s success, Franssen had always wanted to move to America, and when Coach Mark Leroux emailed him a few years ago about coming over for a visit, Franssen did not let the opportunity pass by.
“I came out on a visit and I just loved it, so it was an easy decision from there really,” Franssen said. “I was just blown away by all the facilities. It was unbelievable.”
Franssen started playing golf when he was nine after his dad got him interested in it.
“He always was wanting me to play golf,” Franssen said. “I played a lot of soccer and stuff when I was younger but I eventually started to play golf and picked up [that] I quite liked it. I think he was pretty happy with that.”
While some native Missourians may complain about the weather, it can actually be quite the advantage when Leroux pitches Mizzou to golfers, and it was especially helpful for Franssen and Stewart’s recruitments.
“The Scottish kids, you're telling them, ‘Hey, look, you come here and our fall weather is fantastic. It's way better than it is in Scotland any time of year,’" Leroux said. “Then again, probably the weather pitch for the spring is, ‘Yeah, it's gonna snow here occasionally, but the courses are open year round and we're gonna get through that.’ So, extending their playing season I think is very attractive to them.”
Stewart and Franssen were former teammates on the Under-16 Scotland golf team. Following in Franssen’s footsteps, Stewart arrived at Mizzou a year later. Unlike Franssen, however, Stewart started playing golf a “wee bit” later at the age of eleven. He also took to it by himself.
“I grew up in a small village where there was actually two golf courses right by my house,” Stewart said. “There's not much else to do back where I come from, so I took myself up, and I just practiced and played from that.”
Starting freshman year in a school far from home can be difficult for anyone, but having that connection with Franssen has helped Stewart’s transition become a little easier.
“It's just back to relating with somebody sometimes,” Stewart said. “People kind of struggle to understand the accent and stuff like that. It's so good to have somebody from the same background as you.”
While they experienced Columbia on their visits, neither expected how large Missouri’s campus can feel at times.
“[Campus is] definitely busier than I thought,” Franssen said. “I thought it was going to be just a breeze. You play some golf, just relax, but it's pretty intense.”
“Especially during the day, during classes,” Stewart said. “When you walk about, you realize how many people go to the uni. Yeah, so it's mental.”
For Stewart, things may seem overwhelming at times, but having Franssen and his other teammates has helped. Stewart has relied on them to show him the ropes when it comes to classes and getting acclimated.
“They've been great,” Stewart said. “They're so nice. Everybody's great, the coaches are good. They've been really good to me, actually.”
Along with Franssen, Stewart also shares a room with fellow freshman golfer Jack Parker, a Fr. Tolton Catholic High School graduate from Columbia.
“Yeah, Jack's been great,” Stewart said. “He's got a car so he can give us lifts and stuff.”
While Franssen and Stewart may be busy with a sports season of their own, they still have time to follow the other teams on campus.
“I love going to the football games,” Franssen said. “I learned a lot last year because I had no idea what it was before, but I really like them. And obviously I'll probably go to the basketball games this year.”
Stewart is also interested to see how the basketball team does this year.
“That's what everyone's attention is on because of the new stars,” Stewart said. “You don't really get American football back home and you don't really get basketball to an extent, as well. So I'm just looking forward to going to all kind of different sports.”
Coming to the U.S. to play golf has given Franssen and Stewart the opportunity to learn more both from a golf and a culture standpoint. Leroux agrees that mixing cultures will only help the players grow into better men and golfers by being part of the team and learning from and supporting each other.
“If you have Missouri kids, kids from around the U.S., some international kids, I think culturally the experience is better,” Leroux said.
Edited by Joe Noser | Jnoser@themaneater.com