COLUMBIA — The Old Hawthorne golf course will be filled with some of the top collegiate golfers today and Tuesday for the Mizzou Intercollegiate, but on Sunday the course belonged to Columbia’s youth.
The Missouri golf team and coaches from 10 visiting colleges instructed 46 area youth on chipping, putting, driving and course etiquette at a junior golf clinic at Old Hawthorne.
Craig McGonagle, the community bank president for United Missouri Bancshares, a sponsor of the event, was on hand. He said he is a lifelong golfer who first learned the game from his grandfather in elementary school. McGonagle saw the clinic as another way to pass the game of golf along to a younger generation and brought his son, Keegan.
Roger Crussel of O’Fallon brought his 3-year-old son Nicholas to clinic. Crussel gave Nicholas a set of child-size golf clubs when Nicholas was 1.
“He started playing as soon as he could stand,” Crussel said.
Two years later, Nicholas still showed excitement for the game. Before the clinic, he grabbed a club that was almost as tall as him and went to Missouri junior Peter Malnati, wanting to show Malnati his swing. Malnati clumped a pile of grass together and Nicholas swung away at it.
Missouri coach Mark Leroux brought his sons, 9-year-old Lake and 6-year-old Ty, who playfully announced at the chipping station that he “fights a lot” with his brother.
Another group of siblings were in Lake and Ty’s group, showing how golf can be a family affair. John Watson of Jefferson City brought his three daughters, 8-year-old Hanna, 10-year-old Haley and 12-year-old Hope.
“My wife also plays and we like to go out as a family,” Watson said. “It’s a great way to get the kids outside.”
With five or six coaches or Missouri golfers at each station, the youth received one-on-one attention from accomplished golfers.
At the chipping station, Hanna, Haley and Hope received tips from San Jose State coach John Kennaday, who was an All-American in 1987. He placed his iPhone on the ground 15 feet away from the sisters and challenged them to try and land their ball on it. Throughout his 15 minutes working with them, Kennaday taught them how to approach the ball, where to aim and how to properly hit the ball to make it pop into the air.
“You find what they are interested in and use that,” Kennaday said. “The secret is to get them to fall in love with the game, and then it all falls into place.”