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March 8, 2010
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Far from home, golf keeps brother and sister close at Michigan

alexander and caramia SitompulFor as long as University of Michigan freshman Caramia Sitompul can remember, her older brother Alexander has been playing some kind of game.

At three, he was happily whacking tennis balls back at anyone who would lob one in his direction.

He picked up one of their father’s golf clubs when he was four, and before he got serious about golf, he played soccer and basketball. At six, he shanked a golf ball in their Jakarta, Indonesia, backyard and knocked out Caramia’s two front teeth.

“I was trying to hit a net, and it was such a long club, you know, because I only had adult clubs which my dad had bought, and it was so heavy …” says Alexander, now 19. He looks sheepish, but they’re both laughing at the memory.

“Maybe that’s why it took me a while (to take up golf ),” says Caramia, 18.

While Alexander dominated junior golf in south Asia as a youngster, Caramia spent a lot of her childhood ignoring the sport as much as possible. But when the game opened up opportunities for Alexander from half a world away, Caramia took notice. One opportunity led to another, and today both brother and sister play golf at the University of Michigan.

Despite the game they have in common, Alexander and Caramia are about as different as two siblings can be. He’s quiet and reserved; she’s vocal and out-going. He sketches beautifully; she fills things with color.

young Alexander and Caramia SitompulHe’s a general studies student, not sure what he wants to pursue after college. Three weeks into her college career, she was already certain that whatever career she choses will blend art (her major) and athletics. He chooses his words painstakingly, as if he’s trying to account for every possible misunderstanding. With her, there’s no hesitation. At times Caramia’s responses pop out as if they’re spring-loaded. So while Alexander tries to find a way to say what he enjoys about the game, she fills in the blanks.

“My brother’s quite an extraordinary golfer,” she says. “He’s one of the longest guys I’ve ever known in my entire life.”

“You can omit that, actually,” Alexander mutters.

Ridiculously long, Caramia says, ignoring his protest. She brings up a 400-yard drive in last year’s NCAA tournament.

He sighs.

“It was one of those shots,” he says when you press him, looking like he’d rather be somewhere else. “Maybe … I don’t remember exactly … It was like

the first round, the 18th hole at the University of Texas, it was slightly downwind,

downhill, maybe like 420 (yards).”

“He’s got tremendous talent,” says U-M men’s golf coach Andrew Sapp. “He’s probably one of the longer hitters in college golf, but the thing that makes him special is last year he had the No.1-ranked short game in college golf.”

At 13, Alexander won a big amateur tournament in Singapore and attracted the attention of Alexander Sitompulcoaches at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla. A friend convinced his parents, Saibun and Joyce Sitompul, that if he wanted to reach his potential as a player, the academy was the place to do it.

So Alexander left home at 14 for the Bradenton Academy, the private school students enrolled in Leadbetter’s junior golf residency program attend. A month after he left, Caramia decided to turn her focus to golf.

“My brother got all the attention and I got jealous,” she said. “So I picked up golf, and I got good at it in a short amount of time.”

Alexander worked hard at his game, but he also has a lot of natural talent.

Caramia’s game is more self-made, and she excels through sheer hard work. She’s always been good at getting up and down, hits pretty straight off the tee and plays with a lot of determination.

Golf wasn’t her first sport; it was the one that made the most sense. “She started swimming when she was three years old,” says Joyce Sitompul, proudly. “I’d bring her (to the pool) every week and she was like a dolphin. She’d go deep in the swimming pool for a couple minutes and just disappear. One time she got eight medals — medals in every stroke.”

Caramia Sitompul“Remind me why I left that?” Caramia says, laughing. “I guess with age comes a different perspective on things. I realized golf would take me a lot (farther) than swimming.”

She followed her brother to the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida and later chose Michigan at least partly because it was familiar and close to Alexander. Each year, Joyce makes the 32-hour flight from Jakarta to Detroit, usually packing a few clothes and a lot of food. She stays at Alexander’s apartment for a few weeks and cooks the familiar Indonesian dishes they’ll miss so much after she’s left. As a freshman, Caramia had a bigger transition this year, so Joyce stayed longer.

“I wish my parents had let me do something like that,” says Joyce, who loves swimming, volleyball and gymnastics, but never competed in sports. “I would have liked to be an athlete, but at the time no one accompanied me,”

Joyce says. “That’s why I support them; that’s why I’m doing it (in the extreme) right now. I think I’m the only mother from Indonesia doing something crazy like this.”

The Sitompuls’ younger daughter, 14-year-old Bernice, is home in Indonesia. She also plays golf, with Saibun as her coach. Their family is stretched across 9,800 miles, but the Sitompuls feel the opportunity for their children is worth the price.

“They have the opportunity to play with so many good players here, and they love to be here.”Joyce said. “(We sent them because) they have talent, they love golf and we trust that they can survive.”

Amy E. Whitesall is a freelance writer based in Chelsea, MI. This story originally appeared in the Winter 2009-2010 edition of M Magazine, the official program of Michigan Athletics.

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