Youth golfers learn the basics at Norman Puckett Academy

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — A level of excitement you rarely see on the putting green was evident Monday morning during the first day of the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy. When golf pro Charlie Callaway asked who was ready to play golf, Hayes McKay, James Meriweather and Luke Schofield raised their clubs and enthusiastically said yes.

NATCHEZ — Jonathon Spencer doesn’t strive to be the next Tiger Woods. He doesn’t even want to shoot for a high school state championship. All the 14-year-old Vidalia-native wants is to be able to spend time on the golf course with his family, and the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy is helping him reach his goals.

“I really wanted to learn to play golf, because my grandmother and uncle play all the time, and I want to come play with them,” Spencer said.

Spencer was one of approximately 15 youth golfers at the Duncan Park practice green Monday morning learning the basics of putting from golf professional Charlie Callaway, 11-time Natchez City Champion Pete Powell and Duncan Park professional Greg Brooking.

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Monday’s clinic was the first of four weekly sessions that will teach local youth golfers how to play the game.

“So far I’ve learned to practice as much as you can, and you can get it,” Spencer said about his first experience on a golf course. “I learned you don’t have to get too stressed and be relaxed.”

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Callaway gives James Meriweather a few putting pointers during the first day of the Norman Puckett Junior Golf Academy.

Spencer said by the end of camp this month he hopes to be able to hit the course with his family.

“My grandmother and uncle just like it for the fun of it,” he said. “It’s not competition. It’s just going out with the family and having fun. I hope to at least get to where I can come out every once in a while and play.”

Eight-year-old Sidney Holt, another first-time golfer, has bigger aspirations for the end of the clinic.

“I want to make it to be the city champion,” Holt said.

The Norman Puckett Natchez Junior Championship will be after the clinic is complete, and Holt was already gaining confidence after one day of practice.

“I’m doing really good, and I think I’m going to make city champion,” she said.

Holt also started playing softball earlier this year, and she said her father, Ed Holt, turned her on to golf.

“My dad wanted me to play,” she said. “He was telling me to do it, and I came out and had fun.”

The clinic is not just for first-timers, however, and Natchez High School’s Kurtston Green said he is attending for the second-consecutive year.

“I came out and played last year, and I also played this school year on the (Natchez) golf team,” Green said. “I came back because it was real fun. It’s something to spend the day doing, and I can get out and get the feel of playing golf.”

Green said he has come a long way from being a beginner at last year’s clinic.

“Last year I knew nothing about golf, but after doing it I realized it’s not as hard as you think,” he said. “I just focused on concentration and by the end of camp I got the feel of everything and improved on everything.”

Green said he hopes he will see another step forward in his game after this year’s clinic.

“I’m hoping to progress on my skills and get better during my time off,” he said. “I got rusty, but now I’m back out and getting better at what I’m doing.”

Brooking said he was happy to see a great turnout for both sessions of the clinic. Approximately 22 children attended the early session from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 15 attended the 10:30 a.m. to noon session.

“We are lucky to have a pro of (Callaway’s) caliber out here,” Brooking said. “We are fortunate that the Norman Puckett Foundation allows us to have pros like that.”

Brooking said he was very pleased with this year’s turnout, but he wished there were more instructors in order to give the players more hands-on training.

Brooking said parents could sign their children up for the Junior City Championship tournament in the Duncan Park clubhouse for a $15 fee.