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The Natural

In the 26 years that we owned and operated Mille Lacs Golf Resort, the infinite variety of golf characters that we encountered was never ending. Good golfers, bad golfers, really nice people and some horse’s a$$es. But I only met one truly natural golfer.

Goldstrand said, “That kid, Tony, is the most natural golf talent I have ever seen.

In the 26 years that we owned and operated Mille Lacs Golf Resort, the infinite variety of characters we encountered was never ending. Good golfers, bad golfers, really nice people and some horse’s a$$es. But I only met one truly natural golfer.

Native American woman owned a home between the 9th fairway and the driving range. A gravel road separated the range from the lots along the fairway.  Her three grandchildren who lived in her home grew up like a weed. Very little supervision. Their dad, who sometimes lived there, was a dope dealer. He spent most about half his time in the county jail.

Any golf ball that was pulled or hooked left ended up in the front yard. The family didn’t mind when we trespassed to pick up the range balls.

When Tony, the middle grandchild and only boy, was about 10, I noticed that he had acquired a golf club. Occasionally Tony would whack a few balls back onto the range. No problem, we tried to be good neighbors!

As time passed I noticed that Tony was spending more and more time hitting balls. Once he had cleaned the yard he would go onto the range and collect a few and hit them deeper onto the range.

One day we were short staffed so I hopped on the ball-picker cart and proceeded to pick range balls. Tony was standing just across the road hitting balls. As I approached, he began to slowly retreat deeper toward the safety of his home. I hollered at Tony, “wait a minute, I want to talk to you.”

He stopped, keeping his eyes fixed on the grass at his feet. I pulled up and said, “I have been watching you hit balls. You have developed a pretty good swing. Let me see you hit a few shots.” For the first time he glanced up at me to make sure that I was serious. I hopped off the cart and grabbed about two dozen balls out of the ball baskets and scattered them on the clumpy crass. “Tony hit one at that tree for me,” I said.

Without looking at me or taking a practice swing, he grabbed his 5-iron with a baseball grip; both thumbs wrapped around the grip, and smacked a solid shot directly at the tree. “Nice!” I said.

Tony proceeded to hit all the balls in rapid-fire fashion directly at the tree. Perfect contact on every shot. “Keep hitting balls,” I said. “You may be a golfer someday.”

A few weeks later my friend, Joel Goldstrand, golf professional and golf course architect, stopped by our course to visit about a project we were working on. Joel Goldstrand was a great player, as a collegian he played for the University of Houston and was an All-American. Joel also spent a few years chasing his dream on the PGA TOUR. Joel played in two Masters. Joel knew golf!

After we finished our business I said, “Joel do you have a few minutes to watch something very interesting?”

“Sure,” he replied.

Tony was in the front yard. I pulled up and Tony noticed a white stranger and kept his eyes glued to the ground. I said, “Tony this is Mr. Goldstrand, he was a PGA Professional. I want you to hit a few shots for Mr. Goldstrand.”

Tony looked up with a slight grin as I threw a big bucket of balls at his feet. Tony raked a ball close as I said, “Hit a few it at the tree Tony.” Tony never teed-up a ball; he just began hitting balls at the tree. His swing had perfect rhythm. A long full backswing with a matching follow through, his head stayed solid through impact. After about 10 shots, Joel said, “Tony can you hit one a little higher?”

Without a word and no noticeable change Tony repeated the swing. Same swing. Same solid sound at impact. The ball sailed directly at the old maple tree at the far end of the range, but with a trajectory was about 20% higher. With a motion of his left hand, Joel said, “Tony can you make the ball go to the left?” Same solid sound at impact. The ball started at the maple then hooked about 15 yards to the left of the tree. “One more time Tony, only start it to the right and end up at the tree.” Perfection!

High, low, hooks and fades; Tony entertained us for about 20 minutes. Then Joel asked, “Does your school have a golf team?”

Tony just shrugged his shoulders, and said, “No.”

As we rode back to the clubhouse Goldstrand said, “That kid, Tony, is the most natural golf talent I have ever seen. He could be great. You need to keep an eye on him.”

Sadly, Tony was sucked into the underworld of drugs and alcohol on the reservation. Occasionally he would hit balls, but his golf passion vanished.

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