In Full Flight
It was pretty easy for anybody familiar to golf to see that Marc-Etienne Bussieres had a talent for the sport at an early age. The first time I saw him winning a junior tournament, I witnessed a very composed young player with a balanced, rhythmic action, and the ability to score. Better yet, after talking to him for a few minutes I found him to be a humble young man, often a rare characteristic among those who find success in sports early on.
As expected, six years later Bussieres has blossomed as a person and a golfer. Now in his sophomore year at the University of South Alabama, Marc Etienne has taken to his game to yet another level – something he has proven he can do successfully, time and time again. He has won at just about every level including the OVGA Junior City & District Championship, the Cisco Systems Junior Tour Championship, on the Quebec Garaga Junior Tour, the Quebec Future Links Championship, the Quebec Juvenile Provincial Championship, the Ottawa Citizen Amateur Championship, and the Quebec Match Play Championship.
There is no better assessment of Marc-Etienne’s progress then one from his South Alabama coach, Ben Hannan. “Marc-Etienne is a quality young man who is very talented and focused. He has an excellent work ethic and excels both on the golf course and in the class room.”
The praise for the 21 year old from Gatineau is not surprising when you consider his impressive golf resume. It is a record admired by many but, without the prompting by a family member, it would have never even had a chance to happen.
Growing up in a close-knit family Marc-Etienne says it was his mother’s family who really liked to golf and they would normally get together at least once a year to have a game. One year his aunt decided that Marc-Etienne and his older sister should be part of the fun and after that there was no looking back. “I really liked it, but I never thought I would get that involved. What I liked, and what I still really like of the game is that you are the only one responsible for your success or failure,” he tells us.
Joining Champlain Golf Club at age 12, Marc Etienne quickly became a fixture at the course. “I would normally go there and play with whoever would let me play with them,” he relates. One day he played with a golf professional. Although their name is lost to time one thing Marc Etienne remembers from that day was that the pro showed him how to grip the club properly. With the subsequent success came the realization that he could be in control of his game, that it was not some random destiny that determined the quality of his play. He was hooked.
“I think I started with good golf skills, but it’s quite hard to judge since I don’t really remember the way I used to play. But I would say that as soon as I started getting golf lessons from Guy Beaulieu, my golf game significantly improved.” Marc-Etienne joined up with Beaulieu at D’Ile High School where the Chateau Cartier club pro was involved in the sports-etudes program for student athletes.
Bussieres gives a lot of credit for his success to Beaulieu. “Learning how to play golf was one thing, but then I also had to learn how to manage my golf game. Once I started to hit the ball a little bit longer, I started to realize that driver was not always the best club to hit off the tee. Through coaching, I learned how to manage my golf game by hitting irons off the tee when I need to, to lay up at 80 yards instead of 40 yards on a par five since I would then have a full swing to the green.”
In 2003, at 15, Marc Etienne moved over to the Rivermead Golf Club where the stately golf course would help him to further extend his skills. “I figured that by going to a better club I would have better chances to improve my game.” It seemed to work.
His three run as a Quebec Provincial Junior Team member started that year and he also wrapped up the Quebec Juvenile Championship in dramatic fashion. Marc-Etienne recalls it as the highlight of his junior career. “It happened on the 18th hole at Camelot golf club and I’m sure most people can recall what that hole looks like. There were approximately 100 people watching from the gallery and I was very nervous. The pin was located at the back right over that bunker. I had an 8 iron in my hands and just decided to fire at the pin. I hit a wonderful shot that went straight in line with the pin, landed about 5 feet behind it, spun back of about a foot and I was left with a 4-footer downhill left to right putt. I made the putt and won myself a Provincial Juvenile title.”
Even as an acclaimed junior golfer the opportunities to play golf in the United States collegiate system did not come automatically. He sent off a resume to some 70 universities, a list that, ironically, did not even include South Alabama. It was the coach at the University of Memphis who showed interest in Marc-Etienne, but, lacking space on his team, he passed his name to his friend, Coach Hannan at South Alabama. Marc-Etienne made a visit, liked the environment and decided to sign.
The Canadian immediately made an impact at the Mobile, Alabama school where he posted a 66 in his first NCAA competition. An individual third place finish was the highlight of that first season. He has kept pace in his sophomore season, averaging 73 strokes and, in the eyes of his coach, continuing to improve as a player and team leader.
Of course, coming from life in Quebec to the American old south is a bit of an adjustment, he relates. “School wise it wasn’t that much of a change since I went to a CEGEP for 3 years while I was in Quebec. I know how to study, how to get good grades, etc. The biggest difference was the weather in Mobile. When I got here in August, I could not believe how warm it was. The next day, we went to the golf range at 7am, found a spot in the shade and after half a bucket of balls, my shirt, glove, shorts were completely wet because I was sweating so much. It was really hard to adapt to these kind of conditions, but you eventually develop some tricks to keep your hands dry and you switch gloves 5 times a round.”
Between classes and tournaments the team practices everyday. Marc-Etienne hit the gym ardently this past winter and now says he is hitting the ball further and with more consistency. He is excited at the prospect of the coming season, both at school and when he returns back home. “My goal is to play bigger amateur tournaments that will eventually bring me to the national amateur team. This would give me the opportunity to travel more and to compare myself to even better golfers and I think it’s the key to success, always trying to find ways to get better.”
This season will be his inaugural one as a member at Royal Ottawa GC. It was a tough decision to move as he loved Rivermead but it was one he made for very specific reasons. “The possibility to hit balls of the grass on the range at the Royal Ottawa really pushed me to go there,” he says. I had a wrist injury few years ago from hitting too many balls off the mats and I want to make sure that this won’t happen again. The Executive course is also something that pushed me to make the switch. I am very positive that I will be able to do some good practice on that course. So in short, I think that the Royal Ottawa will offer me a better chance to improve different aspects of my game with all their practice facilities.”
With so much already accomplished and his potential yet to be reached, it is not a stretch to imagine Marc-Etienne playing professionally one day, but he prefers to take a more pragmatic approach to his situation. “Obviously I would really like to turn pro and if I have enough talent, play on the tour, but I know that this is very far away and there is a lot of work to do in order to get there. I will graduate from South Alabama with a Finance Degree, so I am pretty sure that if I do not become a tour pro, I will end up working in the financial market. Right now I just keep my options open while staying realistic…we never know what can happen in the future.