KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – “Sink, siiink,” Alex Fourie pleaded to the ball as it rolled past the hole on the 18th. He immediately threw his head back, by the time it had returned to its upright position a cheeky smile had made its way across his face. He shrugged then went to retrieve the ball and give it another go.
Alex Fourie has gone through too much to let a botched putt impact his day.
Fourie was born with a cleft palate and one arm in a town in Ukraine located less than two hours away from the Chernobyl disaster. The early years of his life were spent at an orphanage, the type where food wasn’t a guarantee.
“We kind of fought for food,” he recalled. “So we got, you know, we got fed maybe once or twice a day.”
On those days when they were given food, it hardly mattered. The consistency and type of food supplied was difficult for a child with his condition to consume.
“I remember the food was Borscht and that was like a cabbage radish stew,” he explained. “That, really hard to eat, you know, with a hole in your mouth.”
On mother’s day weekend in 1999 Alex’s life changed forever. The then seven-year-old was in Southampton, England for surgery on his cleft lip where he met Anton and Elizabeth Fourie, his soon-to-be-parents, for the first time.
“My parents got on an airplane within three days and headed for a Southampton,” he recalled.”
Alex’s adoption process was quick, a short six months compared to the multiple years some international adoptions take, but not quick enough to keep Alex from returning to the orphanage after surgery. The workers informed him he would be leaving soon, a future that led to less food for Alex.
“I think they felt like I didn’t need any to waste any of their food,” he said. “So that was a little rough as well. That was, it was a fight, but we’re here.”
Seven and a half-year-old Alex headed to the states weighing just 35 pounds.
There were hurdles in Alex’s early days in the states. To start, the seven-year-old needed to be taught how to tie his shoes, something Alex hadn’t learned prior to as he didn’t always have shoes in the orphanage. Then there was the fact that he didn’t know any English instead spoke a mix of Ukraine and Russian.
“Because of the falling communism, the older workers still spoke Russian and then the newer, younger workers in the orphanage spoke Ukrainian,” he explained. “So I kind of learned a little bit like a hybrid.”
Communication consisted primarily of head nods and thumbs up or down dictated whether or not he liked something. As Alex recalls it worked out well in those months before he could communicate verbally.
Before conversations were a full-go Alex and his dad communicated through sports.
“The day after I came to America, my dad took me fishing,” he recounted. “And then the day after that, my dad took me to a golf course. I had a club in my hand, right at day two of being in America. I’ve loved golf ever since I remember that driving range my dad had a little cut-down driver. I loved it. I loved it.”
Alex was in love with golf, frustrated yes, but in love.
“I think anybody who just takes up golf right away is frustrated,” he said. “But my dad loved it and so I wanted to do anything and everything with my dad.”
Anton knew how to play, teaching, however, wasn’t his forte. The early lessons he had with Alex were quite simple reminding him to hold the club tight and not let go, he also encouraged Alex to not get down when he missed a ball in the learning stages. Although the most important lesson Alex learned on the links from his father was to have the right attitude.
“It didn’t matter if he made a bogey or a birdie or Eagle, it was what it was and you just had moved to the next hole,” he recalled. “I think attitude is really important in golf and, uh, people get so frustrated and then they quit.”