05/15/07 — Goldsboro golfers experience season of learning

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Goldsboro golfers experience season of learning

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on May 15, 2007 1:49 PM


News-Argus Sports Writer

Credit Tiger Woods for helping revive the Goldsboro High School golf program.

Well, at least indirectly.

When Woods joined the PGA Tour it brought the sport of golf to a younger and more diverse audience in a way unlike anything golf has ever seen. Goldsboro benefited from that interest as it fielded a golf team for the first time in over a decade this past season.

Al Southerland, a teacher at Goldsboro, first approached athletics director Randy Jordan regarding the prospect of a golf team last year. Jordan told Southerland if he agreed to coach the team, he'd make it happen.

"(Al) and I sat down, figured out what we needed to start a team, got the approval of principal (Patricia) Burden and went from there," said Jordan.

The thought was a golf program could be beneficial to the Goldsboro students -- not just for athletics -- but to teach life skills such as discipline.

"Golf teaches you a lot of things in life and we had been depriving the kids of Goldsboro from having that," said Southerland.

When tryouts arrived, Southerland was hoping to see six or eight students. He was pleasantly surprised to see 20 attend the first practice.

Southerland credits the attention Woods has drawn to the sport as the biggest draw for the students to the game.

"People see Tiger playing and winning, so everyone wants to be a Tiger Woods just like everyone used to want to be a Michael Jordan," said Southerland. "That helped a lot. Then there were some kids that just didn't have the skills to play basketball or football."

Many of the Goldsboro students expected the game to come easy to them -- even though most had never tried to swing a golf club. Other students had the wrong motive for trying out.

"Some just wanted to drive the cart," said Southerland. "Others just automatically thought golf was an easy game. Once they came out to practice and swung at the ball 10 times and just did knock the ball off the tee once, they learned otherwise."

Southerland sorted through the potential players and settled on a team of eight.

With the team now selected, next came the challenge of acquiring the necessary equipment to play. Thankfully, the Goldsboro community stepped up and provided the clubs, shoes and balls needed for the season.

Mayor Al King, Clarence Rose, Raymond Smith, David Miller, Victor Young, Bill Simms, Buddy and Judson Pope all donated items to aid the Cougars.

"We had to beat the bushes," Southerland said. "But, they were all so excited about the program coming back. It was another chance for them to give back to the school."

Goldsboro Municipal Golf Course served as the home course for the Cougars while course pro Rick Atkinson was an immense help letting the Cougars use the course.

Before Southerland ever held a practice, he gave each player reading material to learn the rules, etiquette and skills needed for the game. Once the Cougars hit the course, they learned another trait of golf which each of them needed -- to be conditioned.

"By the last six holes they were dying and that's something I don't think they understood -- the conditioning that was involved," said Southerland. "Some of these guys, after nine holes, were dragging and if you're dragging you aren't going to hit a good shot."

Another challenge Southerland faced was the weak short game of his players.

"They don't realize about the short game," he said. "Everyone wants to pull out the big stick, so we need to teach them about practicing the short game. They need to understand that the five-foot putt is just as important as a 300-yard drive.

"Getting that into their heads is the most difficult thing."

When the Cougars finally took the course for their first match, the opposition responded very positively to their presence.

"They were happy and surprised to see Goldsboro come out with a team," said Southerland. "Some even took the time to give us pointers on things that they saw us doing wrong."

While being competitive was not a realistic goal for the team, improvement was and that's what Southerland focused on.

"We don't expect to go out there and be highly competitive with other teams, but we want to be competitive with ourselves," he said. "We want to show some improvement and they did that. Almost every week (our scores) were steadily declining."

One of Southerland's star pupils is freshman Obadiah Speight.

Speight was the only member of the team to go out and buy his own clubs and equipment. He joined the team to give himself something to do after school.

"I thought it would be something I could do instead of being in the streets and getting into trouble," he said.

Inspired by seeing Woods on television, Speight was Goldsboro's top performer this past season recording team-low rounds of 90 and 91.

Southerland envisions a bright future for Speight -- if he keeps working.

"If he puts in the time and effort that's required to learn this game, he could go a long way," Southerland said. "Golf is in his future if he keeps it up."

Southerland wants his team to be competitive by Speight's senior season, but only sees that transpiring with hard work, especially during the summer.

"Play, practice, go to the driving range, watch the golf channel, read books, do whatever it takes," said Southerland of what he expects from his team in the coming months. "We're just looking forward to next year. To getting out with the guys and competing just a little bit more than we did last year."

Goldsboro's principal was impressed by what she saw of the program.

"I was really excited that Mr. Southerland wanted to do this and impressed with the progress that they made this year," said Burden. "This is just another opportunity for students to be engaged in a program here at school and to be involved in something after school."

In his six years at Goldsboro High School, Jordan has tried to add new teams each year. In addition to golf, Goldsboro has added softball, indoor/outdoor track and cross-country to its athletic offering.

"It's giving kids new opportunities to explore new options that they didn't have before," said Jordan. "This can open up avenues for athletic scholarships that these kids didn't have before."

Those opportunities could still be growing as Jordan was approached by a group of girls about starting a women's golf team in the fall.

"We're hopeful that is something that will come in the next year or two," Jordan said. "It's a possibility as long as we have enough bodies."

Forget about wins and losses, Southerland and his Cougars' first season of golf was a rousing success.

"They represented us so well and they're only going to get better as time goes on," said Jordan.