Without taking any warmup shots, Landon Willett lines up on the first tee at the Country Club of Missouri. Only five seconds after setting up, he swings, his arms moving like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Willett’s shot soars farther than 250 yards, landing in the middle of the fairway. He has less than 95 yards to the green.
Willett, a Rock Bridge senior, showed natural ability off the tee early on.
“When I was 11 years old, I played in a charity tournament at the Country Club of Missouri, and they had one of those things where pros look at your swing,” Willett said. “Many of them remarked I had a very natural ability and that I should pursue golf more, so I did.”
The Bruins haven’t benefitted from Willett’s talent until this season, though. After spending six years at Christian Fellowship School, he transferred as a junior and took his ability to Rock Bridge.
Golf has always been in Willett’s life.
He began playing when he was 5. He started going to the junior day at the club every Thursday in the summer. He said he was never that interested in golf, though, and only played on those Thursdays.
“I actually hardly ever played golf, I was too busy playing tennis in the summer time,” Willett said. “In fact, my real love in sports has always been basketball.”
After his run-in with the pros, Willett began to spend more time on the golf course. He worked hard, played more regularly and he began to get good.
“He has worked harder and harder, and he has been trying to get more experience,” his father, Kent Willett said.
He left junior days and tennis behind, began playing in tournaments and joined the team at Christian Fellowship. His life became focused on golf.
“My parents bought me my cell phone when I was 14 because I was always at the golf course and needed it,” Willett said. “Even though my sister only got hers when she was able to drive.”
After playing in the Christian school district state game his freshman and sophomore years, he decided to start taking classes at Rock Bridge and play golf there.
“I wanted to be in the environment of Rock Bridge, where there are more people and more classes to choose from,” Willett said. “Most people at Christian Fellowship are content to wait until college to have the outside world experiences, but I wanted to go.”
The decision was especially difficult for Willett because his father sits on the school board for Christian Fellowship.
“I think that it has been good for him because high school is a microcosm of life, and it is good for him to have a taste of what life would be like after leaving school,” Kent Willett said.
Willett said he immediately enjoyed being at Rock Bridge. The only problem was that he could not play on varsity his junior season because of eligibility rules. He decided to play on his own rather than with the junior varsity team because playing on a school team and competing in a non-school match in the same sport in the same season is against Missouri State High School Athletics Association rules.
“This year, for instance, the JV only played one match,” Willett said. “I wanted to play in college, so I played in tournaments all around in order to get my name out to coaches.”
He played in Midwestern and national tournaments, including a few in Florida.
Now, in his senior year, Willett says the wait was worth it.
As the No. 2 golfer on Rock Bridge’s varsity, Willett provides more depth to a team that will need it to compete in today’s Class 4 District 5 Tournament. Rock Bridge has to beat Hickman, Helias, and Jefferson City, among others, to advance to the state tournament.
Hickman finished third at the state tournament last season, and returned all but one of the group.
“I like to think that with me, Rock Bridge has three solid players who will play well, which will allow us to compete with teams like Hickman who do have three solid players,” Willett said.
After graduating, Willett will take his natural swing to Colorado Christian University in Denver. He said he wants to eventually play in Arizona with teaching professional Stan Utley and see if he can play professionally. But he also would not mind transferring to MU if golf does not work out.
“If there is just one thing that I really do not like about where I am, I will probably transfer,” Willett said. “I do not know where I will go with golf, we will just have to see.”