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Wittenberg weathered media's wrath

He was everything the golf media could ask for. He was young, extremely talented and brash. Sure his confidence and intensity levels were high, but golf had clamored for more than just a puppet on a string to challenge Tiger Woods.

Casey Wittenberg, groomed to be a PGA Tour stud before puberty began, was the answer. He was good, really good, and he had an edge to him.

Cocky? Yes. He darn well deserved to be.

Then came the 2003 U.S. Amateur at historic Oakmont Country Club.

"People around me couldn't believe what people were saying," Wittenberg said. "You can't fight the people with the microphones; you can't fight the people with the pens."

Wittenberg lost to Nick Flanagan in a playoff and, in the process, saw the golf world turn on him at the tender age of 18.

The ultra-competitive kid from Memphis, Tenn., was portrayed as spoiled. Much was made of his being a product of the famed David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Wittenberg says when the week was over, even a victory would have been chastised.

"I felt like the media portrayed that at the U.S. Amateur a bit unfairly," he said Wednesday at Olde Oaks Golf Club in Bossier City, site of this week's Hooters Tour event. "They didn't have a story about me, so they decided to hop on that.

"It was as if they felt, 'He had so much golf background; he's supposed to win this. Let's just hammer him into the ground. If he wins this, he doesn't deserve it because he's been so fortunate.'

"They played the Leadbetter card hard."

His golf-rich background and incredible focus were picked apart.

"I didn't do anything wrong with the way I handled myself. I just didn't smile," Wittenberg said. "But my job for the week was trying to win the U.S. Amateur."

The kid's intensity, if anyone had bothered to look, is totally understandable.

He left home at the age of 13. His new home in Florida was full of other Casey Wittenbergs. He was no longer the superstar. He was just another prodigy mired in a group of them.

"I was surrounded by tennis players and golfers. Everybody was good," Wittenberg said. "They wanted their own status. Social status wasn't who are you dating in high school, it was how many tournaments are you winning.

"It didn't matter how you figured it out, but you figured it out. You developed that focused mentality of being able to get it done or else you weren't really accepted. I love being intense. I'm still intense, but much more relaxed."

Frustratingly, the moniker still follows Wittenberg. When he walked off the course at this year's PGA Tour FedEx St. Jude Classic after shooting 65 "" the day's best score "" all people wanted to ask about was that nightmarish U.S. Amateur.

"Guys, that was two years ago. I was 18 years old. I've grown up," he said. "I just dealt with it. It's behind me now. I want to show everybody I'm pretty down to earth."

He's grounded in one respect, but thankfully still as competitive as ever.
 
"Hopefully I'll give you something to write about this week," Wittenberg said Wednesday.

You already did. Fellow competitive folks will find it's not all bad, either

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