Golf was ‘love at first sight’ for this U.S. Open hopeful from Providence High

Colin Salema started hitting golf balls in his back yard when he was 2.

Two years later, Derek Salema took his son to a par-3 course for the first time.

“To this day, when we drive past that course, Dad reminds me that I had my first par there,” Colin said of Pebble Creek Golf Club in Indian Trail.

Salema, now 18 and a senior at Providence High, will step up the competition a bit Wednesday when he competes in a U.S. Open qualifying tournament at Pinehurst No. 6. Also in the field will be Charlotte 49ers freshman Daniel Boone Jr.

Salema and Boone are part of a field trying to advance to a final round of qualifying later this month. Top finishers in that next event land a spot in the U.S. Open, to be played this year June 13-16 at Pinehurst No. 2.

Salema has a history of success at Pinehurst’s courses. He finished second in last year’s 4A state high school tournament, scoring a 4-under-par 140 at Pinehurst No. 8.

“That’s a special place for all golfers, and I’ve been able to play well there too,” Salema said. “Those courses test you in a lot of ways.”

No other sport

There was never another sport for Salema. His father played college hockey, and his older brother, Brendan, is a hockey player.

“It was love at first sight for me and golf,” he said. “When I was really young, I’d watch a tournament on TV with my dad and then go out in the back yard and hit plastic golf balls.”

Their family became members at Cedarwood Country Club in southeast Charlotte when Colin was 7. A short time later, Colin got his first set of golf clubs.

“And then it really took off,” he said. “I got serious about golf.”

He was playing on the youth amateur circuit by the age of 10 and started working with a golf coach. Salema had a 33rd-place finish in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship last year and after a rocky first round rallied for a 46th-place finish in March at the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship.

Salema said he has realistic expectations about the U.S. Open qualifier.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said of the invitation from the U.S. Golf Association to compete Wednesday. “I’m really looking forward to it. My mindset is that I’ll go down there, play my best, and see what happens.”

Salema switches his focus back to high school golf next Monday, when he and his Providence teammates compete in the regional tournament.

“As always, we’re aiming at the state championship,” he said.

‘Feels like a hobby’

Salema said he plays golf five or six days a week and never tires of it.

“It still feels like a hobby to me,” he said. “It never feels like a job, and I think that’s pretty cool.

“I think the goal in life is to find something you really enjoy. Then go out and have fun.”

Salema, a natural left-hander who plays golf right-handed, is a Clemson commit.

“On the surface, it makes no sense,” he said of his college choice. “Nobody from my family went there, and I don’t have any friends there.”

“For some reason,” he said, “I feel in love with it when I was 9 or 10 years old. It became my dream school. Now I’ll get a chance to study there and play golf.”

Salema is not the kind of person you’ll find indoors very often.

“I really enjoy fishing,” he said. “I like to fish whenever I get a chance.”

“Just put me outdoors, and I’ll be happy,” he added.

Boone seeks spot

The other golfer with Charlotte connections playing Wednesday at Pinehurst is 18-year-old Boone.

He was three-time most valuable player at Fuquay-Varina High and was runner-up in the 2021 4A state high school golf tournament. Despite being a freshman, Boone was selected to compete as part of the 49ers’ five-player team in the American Athletic Conference tournament April 19-21.

He also is a veteran of the junior amateur circuit, with one tournament victory and two top-10 finishes.