Nearly 100 children from the Lee County area learned a few things about golf from the pros on Tuesday during the Alabama Power Junior Clinic at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National in Opelika.
But they also gained life lessons, to take with them to the classroom and beyond.
Professional golfers Michael Johnson, Lee McCoy, Martin Piller and Bobby Wyatt, in town for this week’s Barbasol Championship, talked with the students about the importance, in golf and life, of values such as hard work, dedication, honesty, responsibility, sportsmanship and respect.
The golfers welcomed the opportunity to bring the game to children who may not have experience playing golf.
“It’s the kids,” Wyatt said, when asked why he participated in the clinic. “I think they’re having a blast. It’s introducing them to golf, and … continuing their interest if they already play.”
McCoy said he was introduced to golf at an early age. As a professional, he sees the junior clinic as a way to encourage youth. “Growing up around the game was something incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “If there’s any chance I get to introduce that into a kid’s life, even if they are a little bit older than where I started, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Piller echoed McCoy’s comments. “I think we have such a luxury in golf where we can get really close to kids and fans, and because of that, you can do clinics where they can get right up here and watch,” Piller said. “We have the opportunity so we might as well use it.”
In addition to demonstrations of hitting accuracy and club selection, each pro took a few minutes to talk about the life lessons golf has taught them.
“To be successful, you have to work hard,” Johnson said, noting the hours of practice he and other pros endure to stay competitive.
All agreed to be successful, it was important to be confident and to learn from mistakes.
“Alabama Power is thrilled to support the Junior Clinic, to showcase the important lessons that golf can provide our children,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Alabama Power’s Southern Division. “We were excited to have Bobby, Martin, Michael and Lee with us to help host the event.”
Here’s more about the four pros who participated in this year’s Alabama Power Junior Clinic at the Barbasol Championship, which continues through Sunday:
- Michael Johnson: Recently named a Golfweek first-team All-American, Johnson turned professional on June 26 after competing as a member of Team USA at the Arnold Palmer Cup in Formby, England. The former Auburn University golfer had a sensational senior campaign that saw him win a school record three tournaments and break the single season scoring average school record at 70.37. Johnson was a semifinalist for the Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus Awards. He became Auburn’s seventh All-American under head coach Nick Clinard, and only the fifth first-team member in school history, joining Buddy Gardner, Chip Spratlin, Iain Steel and Blayne Barber. He was also a PING second-team All-American this year.
- Lee McCoy: After a great collegiate career at the University of Georgia, McCoy has turned professional and accepted a sponsor exemption for the Barbasol Championship. In 2016, McCoy was chosen as a PING First-Team All-American by the Golf Coaches Association of America. McCoy capped his collegiate career with a sixth-place finish in the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., in May. He was a First-Team All-American in 2015 and honorable mention in 2014. He won seven tournaments as a Bulldog (one shy of the school record), including two during the 2015-16 season. He was chosen as the 2016 SEC Player of the Year and highlighted the All-SEC First Team after claiming medalist honors at the league tournament. McCoy wound up as Georgia’s record holder for career (70.87) and single-season (70.00) stroke average.
- Martin Piller: A Texas native and Texas A&M University graduate, Piller is one half of a golf power couple. His wife, Gerina Piller, also plays professionally with the LPGA and is in the Top 20 on the Rolex Women’s Golf World Ranking. A professional since 2008, Martin Piller is sponsored by Barbasol and finished tied for 19th in the 2015 Barbasol Championship. He has five professional wins on the Web.com Tour including two victories last year in the Albertsons Boise Open and the Digital Alley Open. This year, the Dallas resident posted four sub-par scores at the Valero Texas Open to finish at 9-under 279 and tied for fourth with four others, his first top-10 finish in 35 starts on the PGA TOUR. At the same time, Gerina Piller was en route to tying for third place at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.
- Bobby Wyatt: Wyatt, who hails from Mobile, became instantly famous in the golfing world after firing an unheard-of 57 at the 2010 Alabama Boys State Championship. He went on to become one of the University of Alabama’s top players. He played on the victorious United States 2013 Walker Cup team, where he led all scorers with 3.5 points. He was named a first team All-American by Golfweek in 2013 and a second-team choice in 2012. Professionally, Wyatt’s best PGA TOUR finish was playing as a sponsor in invite at the rain-shortened Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2016. He finished the tournament tied for fourth. Wyatt has competed in 12 PGA TOUR tournaments over the past three years.