After stepping up to the driving range at Heart of America Golf Course on Saturday, Tom Watson shanked a shot.
The approximately 75 kids surrounding him snickered, and helpfully told him that he should have used a tee under the ball.
Watson, a winner 39 times on the PGA Tour and 14 times on the PGA Tour Champions, of course had shanked on purpose.
He was leading a free clinic for young Kansas City golfers, just after the dedication of the Tom Watson Golf Academy at the course in Swope Park.
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The Academy will provide classes to help young golfers perfect their game. Golfers from ages 10 to 17 will pay $40 for four hour-long sessions, and can take classes on topics like putting, wedge work or driving.
Those classes will be offered through the larger First Tee of Greater Kansas City program, which works with golfers as young as 7 to develop fundamentals.
“We’re trying to drive more kids to the game. Kids have so many options in their life. What we’re trying to do is take them away from this option,” Watson said, holding up his cell phone.
“Put this aside for a little while, get out and get some exercise, learn how to play the game — a game that will be with you for a lifetime.”
Skylar Brunk, who is 16 years old, has been in the First Tee program for eight years. She said the Tom Watson Golf Academy classes will be helpful to kids struggling with certain aspect of their game.
“It’s really cool to see him helping out the community and be so down to Earth,” she said of Watson. “It’s nice for him to take time out of his busy schedule to help little kids and be so passionate about the sport he loves.”
Watson has been heavily involved in the Kansas City golfing community for years.
He’s consistently raised money for the First Tee program, and for many years hosted the annual Children’s Mercy Hospital Classic. He also had a role in the design and construction of the Heart of America Golf Course.
Watson lives in the Kansas City area when he’s not traveling for the Champions tour. He won’t be teaching classes in his Academy but will drop in occasionally, he said.
“I’ll leave that to the experts,” he said, referring to the Academy’s coaches.
Although he won’t be there daily, Watson has been clear about what he wants the kids at the Academy to take away from it.
“Golf is a game of failure,” he said. “If you can teach these kids you’re going to fail probably more than you’re going to be successful.… That’s the fun of the game, being able to hit those shots.”