Freeburg golf coach Doug Haas didn't think much about it last summer when he learned that an exchange student from Finland would be trying out for the Midgets golf team.
Then Haas saw Arttu Linden swing a golf club.
"I didn't know what we were getting into. From what I knew, the national sport in Finland was ice fishing,'' Haas said. "But from the first time I saw him swing a club we knew we had somebody special.
"I remember he hit a 5-iron 210 yards down the middle of the fifth fairway at the Orchards. The kids' eyes got as big as pepperonis and their jaws just dropped.''
During the 2012 season, Linden made a lot of heads turn and jaws drop.
Finishing the year with a nine-hole average of even par 36, Linden was the dominant player in the Cahokia Conference, winning four tournament championships -- including the Class 2A Regional title at the Acorns in Waterloo.
The 17-year-old Linden, a native of Pori, Finland, capped his year by firing a four-over-par 76 to tie for seventh at the Class 2A State Tournament at Weibring Golf Course in Normal.
The second round of the 2012 state tournament was canceled by rain.
"I was thinking I had a chance to win state after I won the regional. The 76 was a bad round. I was four over (par) after four holes,'' Linden said. "The first day I didn't have the motivation I needed because I thought it was going to be a two-day tournament.
"The second day? I had a feeling we weren't going to play. I wasn't surprised when they called it.''
Nevertheless, Linden's year ended with a seventh-place medal and the honor as the Belleville News-Democrat co-Player of the Year.
The son of Ari and Katja Linden, Arttu Linden grew up playing hockey and soccer. Hockey is the most popular sport in Finland, a country with a population of 5.4 million.
Linden did not play golf until being introduced to the game by his parents at age 7. Linden said golf is a growing sport in Finland, which features 130 courses.
Linden arrived in the United States late last summer and is living with his American family, Dennis and Kim Haas and their children Adam and Megan.
An excellent student, Linden speaks four languages -- Finish, Swedish, English and Spanish.
Linden said the cultural differences between Finland and the United States took some getting used too.
"People here talk more. They are more social, I guess,'' Linden said. "In Finland, people are more quiet. They like to have their own time and their own space.
"Here, if you want to be alone, people think you have a problem. Back home, people are used to that and they'll leave you alone.''
On the golf course, Linden made himself right home in a hurry. Tying Michael Johnson of Althoff for medalist honors at the season opening St. Clair County Tournament, Linden never looked back.
"My goal was just to play good. I didn't really have any goals, because I didn't know how good people were around here.'' Linden said. "I really didn't have anything to compare it to and so I just wanted to play as well as I could.''
Linden's strengths as a player are his iron play, his mental game and a near flawless golf swing, said Midgets coach Doug Haas.
"Arttu is constantly working to improve his game. His swing is pretty close to perfect,'' Haas said. "He knows how far he can hit a certain club. He knows how to play with and against the wind and he knows what it takes to get it around the golf course.
"In other words, his course management is very, very good.''
Linden will return to Finland following the 2012-13 year and will have one year of high school to complete. He plans to return to the United States where he will almost certainly play NCAA Division I college golf.
"He is a big time Division I player,'' Haas said. "We've had some interest from Illinois and some other D-1 programs."
As for his year with the Midgets and Freeburg High School, Linden has enjoyed it.
"Good times. I really enjoyed being part of the team and playing golf with the rest of my teammates,'' Linden said. "Other then golf? I'm going to remember homecoming. That was pretty awesome. We don't have that kind of thing in Finland.
"I was on the homecoming court, so that made it even better.''