LUMBERTON — For two weeks, the best golfers in the world gathered at Pinehurst No. 2 as the country watched them play for the mens and womens U.S. Open championships.
Among those watching was a contingent of youth golfers from Robeson County.
“In person’s a lot cooler,” 14-year-old Dakota Locklear said. “On TV, you can be into it and see them hit the shots, but it’s nothing like being there. Being there, you get to feel what the crowd feels, and feel what the players feel.”
Locklear was one of several kids from the Robeson County Chapter of the First Tee of the Sandhills who were able to take in both tournaments.
“It’s really motivating, honestly, to get out there and see those guys,” Locklear said. “They make you want to do better and be more persistent in practicing and play a little bit more.”
That was a view shared by most of the kids who attended the event, including 11-year-old Walter Ghaffar.
“The way they hit the ball was fantastic,” he said. “I wish I could hit it like that but, really what they do is practice all day and every day so that’s pretty much the difference between the pros and me.”
Ghaffar and Locklear were among those who felt more motivated after watching the professionals go about their jobs.
“That experience was definitely a learning experience for me,” Locklear said. “Going to see the pros and how they practice and what they do, and I’m going to try and be a little more like them.”
“You have to see it,” 12-year-old Bella Oxendine said. “You have to go through it. It motivates you so much and it strives you to be the best at your game as you can be.”
Oxendine’s adventure didn’t just stop at seeing the ladies play in the open. Before the womens open, she was able to join several other girls and sit down with former LPGA pro Annika Sorenstam.
“I got to hear her story from when she was my age until her age right now,” Oxendine said. “It’s just wonderful hearing about what she’s done and what she’s accomplished in her life and it makes me strive to be like her and motivates me to be as good as her.”
Jamie Locklear, who runs the Locklear Golf Academy at Pinecrest Country Club and heads the local First Tee chapter supervised the trips for the local kids.
“What I see is how they light up,” Locklear said of the event. “They were just so excited, like a kid in a candy store. To me, just seeing that excitement, it just took those kids to a different level.”
He is also seeing the benefits of going in how the kids are approaching practicing their game on the course.
“I’ve seen a big difference,” he said. “Like Bella, for example. She’s been the girl I’ve always told ‘You’ve got to practice more.’ She has been so motivated (after) seeing Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, how they lay sticks down on the driving range. It’s like she’s copying that now.”
The adventure was all part of a bigger goal for Jamie Locklear, as he is looking to build more than just quality golfers, but quality people as well. He said the lessons he is trying to teach the kids come across in a stronger way when coming from the pros.
“I see those core values being introduced,” he said. “And those kids being able to carry them throughout their whole lives. Hearing someone else, like a professional athlete say that, it does something else to a kid other than a regular coach.”