At first glance, there's nothing different about a teenage girl playing miniature golf at the Great Adventure miniature golf course in Branson. But what you don't realize is that the 15 year-old girl is Olivia Prokopova (pronounced "Pro-pov") from the Czech Republic, one of the most successful professional miniature golfers in the world. The man who's constantly at her side is her coach, and for the last two weeks for 8 hours a day every day, Olivia, who started playing the sport at age 3 and turned pro at age 7, has been in Branson preparing for the U.S. Open, one of the country's two major events in this sport.
"I'm tired, everyday, because of my back," Olivia explains.
The reason her back hurts is from the constant bending over to putt. But at this high-level of competition where two-strokes is par and a hole-in-one separates the winners from the losers, preparation is key. And Olivia, who's played all over the world from China to Europe to the United States, says of Branson, "this course is the hardest I play."
Robert Alderman, the owner of the Great Adventures 36-hole course, is happy to hear that and proud that his Branson facility is hosting the U.S. Open. The other major event, the Masters, is held every September in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
"There was a pool of 500 miniature golf courses and we were chosen for it (the U.S. Open). So we're really excited that Missouri's getting this opportunity," Alderman said.
This is the first time that the state has hosted this major event and the Great Adventures course has been ranked as one of the top 10 in the U.S. mainly because the hand-carved cobblestones that rim the holes, shooting the balls into a number of different hard-to-determine directions.
Brad Lebo, a Pennsylvania dentist, is the defending U.S. Open champion and one of the 30 pros from 10 states and three countries who's competing. And lest you think these golfers aren't just as serious about mini-golf as the PGA pros are about their game, check out Lebo's notepad full of hand-written tips on every single hole and how it plays.
"There's a lot of billiard-type skills involved," Lebo said in comparing mini-golf with pool. "we have spin the ball on a lot of holes. There's lots of geometry involved just like in pool or billiards. They have a lot in common but a putting stroke's a putting stroke."
And you can see some of the best putting strokes on display Friday-Sunday at the Great Adventure Miniature Golf Course at 4800 Gretna Road in Branson.