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Local youth get golf lessons at Norman Puckett Academy

George Johnson, a teaching professional with the PGA, reviews putting techniques with a group of young golfers during the Norman Puckett Natchez Junior Golf Clinic at Duncan Park Monday morning. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
George Johnson, a teaching professional with the PGA, reviews putting techniques with a group of young golfers during the Norman Puckett Natchez Junior Golf Clinic at Duncan Park Monday morning. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The power behind Jace Calcote’s swing was evident to anyone watching him at the driving range Monday morning.

The 15-year-old was one of the participants at the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy Monday morning at Duncan Park. Calcote’s shots had plenty of distance behind them, but they all hooked right at first instead of going straight.

But after talking to instructor Clay Arnold and making a few mechanical adjustments, Calcote’s shots began soaring straight ahead and far away into the distance. It was a noticeable improvement, but Calcote said there’s still work to do.

“That was great,” Calcote said afterward. “I had to adjust my swing a lot, but when I finally got there, I still didn’t know exactly how to hit it correctly, but I’m still trying to adjust it today.”

Calcote was one of approximately 20 young golfers at the academy Monday morning. PGA teaching professional George Johnson was the featured instructor, and he said he’s trying to prepare the next generation of golfers to one day take his place.

“This is to grow the game of golf and to help them enjoy it,” Johnson said. “As they get older, they’re going to be the future of the sport. One day, one of them is going to be in my spot, teaching the next group.”

Johnson said the focal point of the camp was teaching young players the rules and etiquette of golf, as well as the proper way to putt and chip, all while learning to use wood and iron clubs. Learning a sport that allows them to interact with others in important in their social development, Johnson said.

“They’re out having fun and being around friends,” Johnson said. “It’s a game about personal challenge and social atmosphere.”

Guest instructor Pete Powell was working with the young golfers at the driving range, teaching them the proper grip and stance for a golf swing.

“If I can get them to flip their butt out and bend from the waste, maybe later they might remember that part of the lesson,” Powell said.

In Calcote’s case, the proper stance and grip meant getting out of a baseball mindset, Calcote said.

“A baseball swing and a golf swing are totally different,” Calcote said. “With a baseball swing, you have to open up your hips before you actually hit the ball, but in golf you have to do the exact opposite.”

Powell said there’s no such thing as a natural golfer, and it takes a lot of time and energy to perfect a shot — especially since there are a lot of swings and misses at first.

“If they do it regularly, it gets to about three months before they stop missing the ball,” Powell said.

Eight-year-old Ethan Wilson said he enjoyed participating in the academy.

“It was fun, it was big, you get to learn about golf and you get to learn from people that were city champions,” Wilson said.

Kayla Arnold, 10, said she decided to participate in the academy after her brother, 8-year-old Kaden Arnold, took part in the academy a week earlier.

“I didn’t have anything to do, so I decided to come out,” she said.

A first-time golfer, Arnold said she enjoyed learning the sport, but it wasn’t easy to pick up golf at first.

“It’s difficult, trying to hit it all the way out there,” Arnold said, referring to driving the ball on the driving range.

But Kaden Arnold said he was having much better luck learning the sport.

“It’s easy for me, because I have the best clubs,” he said.

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