COLUMBIA — While taking his daughters out to the Perche Creek driving range to practice their golf swing, amateur golfer David McDonald continues his effort to pass the passion and knowledge for the game he has on to his daughters.
“Swing at the target, not at the ball, honey,” McDonald said to his 15-year-old daughter Katy as the ball skips along the green grass.
His daughter is starting school at Hickman next year, and has showed some interest in trying out for the golf team. Her next shot makes it into the air with a slight fade, a big improvement from the first.
“Nice one,” McDonald says.
McDonald has won the Francis Hagan Match Play tournament, played at the Lake of the Woods golf course, four times since it began in 1994. He won in 2000, 2002, and back-to-back in 2005 and 2006. Only one other person has won the tournament at least twice in its 14-year history.
Katy continues swinging away, while mixing looks of excitement and frustration. Some shots go down the middle of the range, and others skip along the ground.
McDonald then shifts his attention to his other daughter, Claire, who is 13 years old. “Remember everything in golf starts with grip, stance, and posture,” McDonald says before she swings.
Claire listens and adjusts her position so her feet are lined up. She hits the ball cleanly and it lands 50 yards down the range.
“When I practice with the girls or neighbors, I love when they ask me questions. I try to understand what they want from golf, and hope they can understand the same enjoyment level I have for the game,” McDonald says while walking over to hit a few balls.
He slowly draws the club back, and, “thwak,” he quickly swings through the ball while taking a small divot out of the grass. The ball soars through the blue sky with just the slightest draw down the middle of the range.
McDonald says he has thought about going pro and teaching golf, but he still enjoys competing in the local tournaments too much.
“I’ve considered it every year, so if it comes down to it, I might give up my amateur status to teach some day,” McDonald said.
He sets up for his next shot, “Thwack,” “Thwack,” “Thwack,” McDonald hits three more balls just like the first one. It’s that type of consistency that has helped McDonald win his four championships.
The tournament pairs golfers against each other, and whoever wins the most holes moves on in the bracket. Andrew Baier, who has organized the tournament since it began, says that it takes a lot of skill and luck to win it once, let alone four times.
“That’s 24 matches he’s won, it’s pretty amazing,” Baier said.
McDonald has played in the tournament since it began in 1994, and will be competing in it again this year. While participating in five or six other tournaments, McDonald always looks forward to the Francis Hagan.
“I love the Francis Hagan. It’s a totally different tournament. Every shot means something,” McDonald said.
Through years of competing in the tournament, McDonald has learned what types of shots to use and when, to help him beat opponents.
“My shot pattern and ball flight make me a better player,” McDonald said. “Some will try and blast their nine-iron on their second shot, but I will use a softer six-iron.”
McDonald, who shoots even par on a bad day and well-below par on a good day, had never played seriously until he graduated college. After college, he found a job at Mid-Missouri Golf, and fell in love with the game.
He began talking golf with anyone who would listen. He learned how to control his trajectory and improve his ball flight from watching local golfer Dee Sanders, who won the match play tournament in 1995. He slowly went from shooting in the 90s to the 80s, and then into the 70s without taking a single lesson.
“Everything I’ve done is self-taught. I love listening and talking about golf with people, and I think in the long-run that has helped me surpass others around,” McDonald said.
McDonald said it wasn’t until he began to work on his chipping and putting, that he started to become successful in tournaments.
“When I won the City Championship in 2000, I would chip and put for fifteen minutes during my lunch break, and then go back to work. That’s when I started to score better,” McDonald said.
Standing at 5 feet 8 and 250 pounds, McDonald realizes that he may not be the most athletic person, but says the great thing about golf is that athleticism doesn’t matter. Instead, he credits his strong mental focus on the golf course to help make up for his lack of athleticism. After bad shots or a bad hole most golfers get angry or upset, but he has the uncanny ability to forget every bad shot or hole quickly. Chris Johnson, who has faced McDonald in tournaments including the Francis Hagan, says his mental toughness makes him a difficult opponent.
“You just can’t count him out. He can be in trouble and still hit a good shot. He can have a bad hole and then hit a string of birdies,” Johnson said. “He’s taught me to be more even keel over shots. Getting real ticked off doesn’t help, especially in match play.”
The tournament will begin the first-round qualifier at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.