IF you see Kiefer Ravena these days taking a practice swing at an imaginary ball during his spare time instead of polishing his shooting stroke, don't be surprised.
Manong has been bitten by the golf bug.
Ravena is just the latest basketball star to get hooked to the gentleman's game - a list that includes Michael Jordan and Steph Curry and, among local players, Chris Tiu and Vince Hizon.
The PBA-bound cager was lured into the fairways by a batchmate - pro golfer and former world junior champion Nico Evangelista - and has been playing the game for months now, thrilled to take on a new challenge that the sport offers.
It was easy for the Gilas Pilipinas standout to get serious since his hometown Cainta in Rizal has three golf courses, including the championship and executive layouts of the Valley Golf Club.
But Ravena said it wasn't a case of love at first sight.
"Nag-start ako dahil inintroduce sa akin ng friend ko. Sabi ko, I think this is not a sport for me kasi sanay ako sa buhay na fast-paced na laro, basketball (at) volleyball mabilis. Golf is a game of patience at talagang calm, cool, and collected sa lahat.
"Nagka-interest ako kasi out of my comfort zone (ito). Na-challenge ako na subukan ko with a friend who is a professional golfer," said Ravena.
Now, he plays golf as often as he can, using it as part of his "active rest" from the rigorous activities of basketball.
"I try (to play) as much as I can. A month, three to four times, at least once a week. I try to find some time. Very relaxing and nakakatulong sa akin kasi golf is a game of focus. Every time I find myself thinking about things when it comes to the (basketball) games, I watch golf videos to see their strategies to keep myself cool and relaxed," said Ravena.
Golf does require physical effort, but Ravena said he feels refreshed mentally and physically after a round.
"Sanay na lang din. Ang sa akin naman, kasi parang active rest siya for me. Hindi siya totally nakakapagod. Actually, nakaka-relax talaga. Kahit papaano, nakaka-recover ka," said Ravena.
More than anything else, it was the mental challenge that golf entails that attracted him to the sport, Ravena said.
"Naglalaro ka, you play against yourself. In life, that's our enemy, 'yung sarili natin whether in business, sports, or normal na buhay. I teach myself to compete against myself and how to push myself even more," said Ravena.
When asked what the strength of his game is, Ravena said it is his putting, even crediting his short game for his improved free throw accuracy.
He also considers the short game as the toughest to master.
"Putting is something that I'm good at that is why na-improve ko 'yung free throws ko," Ravena. "I improved because of my putting game."
"The toughest part really is 'yung short game sa golf. Sometimes, everybody is a powerful hitter. But when it comes to the short game, it's mental: who's tougher, akala mo madali na lang 'to pero one slight angle or one-half degree bigger of an allowance, mintis. Hindi puwedeng ganun," said Ravena.
Ravena said basketball and golf have striking similarities in terms of the focus that both demand.
"(Ang golf) ganun din sa basketball. Hindi ka puwedeng malingat because it's a game of spurts. It's a game of runs," said the former Ateneo star, who often plays with dad Bong and brother Thirdy.
At this time, golf is no more than a means to relax for Ravena. But the competitor that he is, Kiefer looks forward to the day when he becomes good enough to take on the best in the game in tournament play.
"'Yun talaga goal ko," said Ravena when asked if he plans to play in tournaments some day. "Gusto ko sumali. For me, it's leisure time, to relax. But when the time comes, magiging competitive na rin. Kailangan matuto pa ako and a lot of people are teaching me the game. Gusto ko talaga matutunan."
Just last month, Ravena happily told SPIN.ph that he has shot at even bogey round at Valley. Not bad, huh.
The kid sure is on his way.