GASTONIA At lunch Tuesday afternoon at Gaston Country Club, 72-year-old Bruce Sudderth had a chicken salad sandwich, a bowl of fruit and his eyes on a few of his retirement projects.
Sitting a couple of tables away were some of the best young golfers in North Carolina – state 3A champion and Auburn-bound Will Long, Forestview High rising senior Will Blaylock and Winthrop golfer Taylor Dickson – each of whom has worked with Sudderth.
Since retiring as tournament director for the Champions Tour on Jan. 1, 2006, Sudderth’s retirement plan has been happily hijacked by his work cultivating promising young golfers.
“I love seeing them succeed,” Sudderth said after spending his morning giving two lessons.
Golf pro emeritus at Gaston CC, where he worked for 22 years before spending 11 years as a Champions Tour administrator, Sudderth is a teacher at heart. He has spent his life around golf – having shared meals and swing thoughts with Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead among others.
On the Champions Tour, Sudderth gravitated to the practice tee where he watched many of the game’s legends hit balls, picking their brains about the game and its mechanics. Now Sudderth – who has the rare distinction of being a PGA Master Professional – is sharing what he has learned with a new generation.
“I hadn’t planned it this way, but I had a few parents ask if I would coach their son or daughter,” Sudderth said. “I started with one then I had two, then three and now I probably have 30 full-time students, almost all of them high school or college players.”
With director of golf and Sudderth protégé Mike Taylor overseeing it, Gaston Country Club has developed an excellent line of junior players. The club has produced seven participants in the U.S. Junior Championship over the past five years.
Taylor says it’s about opportunity and creating an environment that encourages junior players – and it’s about Sudderth’s influence.
“These kids look up to him,” Taylor said. “It’s like their eyes light up when they get to go hear what Mr. Sudderth has to say.”
Sudderth doesn’t teach beginners. He takes talented players and works to make them better.
Years ago, he worked with LPGA players, including Jane Geddes, who won the U.S. Women’s Open under Sudderth’s tutelage, Mary Beth Zimmerman, Maggie Will and others.
Now he works with Harold Varner III, the 2011 North Carolina Amateur champion and former East Carolina star who’s in his first full season as a pro. Sudderth has had a hand in Gastonia’s Forestview High’s winning consecutive 3A state championships after consecutive runner-up finishes. Archer Price, state 2A champion at Gaston Day, also works with Sudderth, who credits Gaston CC’s Taylor with much of the local success.
Sudderth takes a simple but thorough approach: Teach the entire game.
Players who work with Sudderth don’t spend all their time banging balls on the practice range. Each session with Sudderth includes time devoted to wedge play and
“When they come in for a checkup, they know they have to practice all of those areas,” Sudderth said. “It’s not a method I teach. I try to teach the complete player. I want them to be prepared.”
It’s a different game now than the one Sudderth grew up playing and teaching. Equipment, technique and physical training have changed golf, and Sudderth has adapted. He marvels at how far young players can hit the ball today, citing Varner as an example of someone who can generate immense power with a simple, compact swing.
“I stress hitting the ball as far as you can,” Sudderth said. “If you can hit it a long way, I can teach you to hit it straight. And I stress being able to get it up and down from anywhere.
“I like teaching people that want to get better. I teach them for competitive golf.”
• Inbee Park is a marvel at the moment, and if she wins the Women’s British Open at St. Andrews, it qualifies as the calendar Grand Slam. Women’s professional golf has five majors – the Evian Championship was classified a major this year – but that’s contrived. Declaring an event a major doesn’t work. Ask The Players Championship.
• No surprise that the PGA Tour and PGA of America went along with the anchoring ban. It was headed that way from the start. And forget about the suggestion by the Tour and PGA of America to give amateurs a longer window before the ban goes into affect. It starts Jan. 1, 2016, for everyone – unless it can start sooner.
• The state of daily-fee golf in the Charlotte area is troublesome. The forced closing of Birkdale on Tuesday further illuminated the problem. The market was overbuilt years ago, and though participation is down, courses can’t afford to let conditioning and service slip or it will cost them. Some courses may ultimately fail.
Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to The Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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