Today is Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cumberland golf coach gives PGA players the shaft

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(The 2012 British Open furnished Wilkerson with one of the highlights of his life when PGA superstar Tom Watson asked him for help on his swing on the driving range.)


As tour manager for Adams Golf, Wilkerson oversees the work of 10 other staff representatives but also continues to fit golfers personally with the right clubs. The numerous pros he has served include Rory McIlroy (current World Number 1 male golfer), John Daly and Bernhard Langer.


Basically, what I do on a typical day with a player like (Nashville native and Vanderbilt grad) Brent Snedeker or Dustin Johnson is they will come in looking for a club, usually a hybrid or fairway wood. I will ask them how much yardage theyre looking to cover.


We will look at four different head designs between hybrid and fairway woods. I will look at their golf swing, take their ball speed, head spin, launch angle and backspin. I know what kind of shaft they use. I put all that together, evaluate it and then build a club that, hopefully, fits their golf swing, performs well and gets the yardage, said Wilkerson, who has worked 31 PGA events this year.


Adams Golf provides a trailer that follows the tour in which Wilkerson works his magic in constructing the right club. He generally completes the task within 90 minutes.{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=86|imageid=586|displayname=0|float=right}


Adams Golf, based in Plano, Texas, gives the clubs to the professionals. At a typical event with a field of 150 golfers, Wilkerson says they will provide 50 to 60 clubs to the players.


The guys switch clubs off and on. They are not paid to use our clubs. The equipment speaks for itself, he said.


The hardest part of his working at tour events across the U.S. is the travel. He recently logged 70,000 flying miles for this season.


Hotels and airplanes and airports. Lots of hours. I usually get to the driving range at 7 a.m. and dont leave until 6 or 7 p.m., working with players until everybody gets taken care of, Wilkerson, a bachelor, said. Thats probably why this job works. If I had children and were married, it would be tough to leave every week.


But during the fall and spring, the man who helps PGA players swing long and straight, transitions to a smaller world, coaching the young Bulldog golfers at Cumberland.


This is kind of my feel-good job, he said. It takes more time than I make money; but its about the kids and how they turn out...I tell them, Your deal is you gotta pay this forward. You gotta help junior golfers and pass on what you learn here at Cumberland University.


Im trying to get them involved on both sides of golf. Most of them want to play golf professionally and several have become club pros. We actually took them out to one of the tour events two years ago, the Chattanooga Nationwide event, and showed them a whole different side. That you can work in golf as a local representative, a national rep, a club pro or a teacher and fitter.


Wilkersons job with Adams Golf only gives him off the month of December.


I travel on Sunday and work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the tour. I fly back (to Nashville) Wednesday night, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we (the CU golf teams) travel to play or practice. Im off two weeks this fall and well play golf tournament those weeks. Its a pretty busy fall and spring for me, he said of wearing two distinctively different golf hats.


As for the major difference in coaching college players and assisting PGA professionals, he said, A lot of it is the amount of time they have for practice. Tour guys do it for a living. College kids are combining going to school, some work and trying to practice. So the students really have less time to build their game.


As far as the golf, their short games are so different. From 100 yards in on the PGA Tour, the pros are just so much better than average college players.


Beneath Wilkersons tutelage, the mens golf team won TranSouth conference championships in 2005 and 2009 and finished 16th in the NAIA National Championships in 2009, for which he was named conference coach of the year.


{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=86|imageid=587|displayname=0|float=left}The womens program began in 2009. We were ranked 150th in the country that first year. With some recruiting success, we got up to 24th at one time.


The womens team won the conference title last year, and Wilkerson earned womens coach of the year honors. Working alongside Wilkerson for the second year, as the team switches conferences from the TranSouth to the Mid-South, is assistant golf coach Beth Ann Burns, a Mt. Juliet High School graduate who played her collegiate golf at Austin Peay State University.


As for prospects for the new year, which takes the teams to tournaments in Kentucky, Indiana and Florida, I think we look pretty good, said A.C. Agee, a senior from Dyersburg, about the women's team. We were ranked 25th last year and we didnt lose anybody and have a really solid freshman. We are working harder than ever.


Agee said Coach Wilkerson taught her to practice so much and to leave so little to chance that when you get out there, you have fun.


He is without a doubt the reason I came to Cumberland. I met a lot of different (college) golf coaches, and he was by far the coach who knew the most about golf. He has a plethora of golf knowledge. He knows the golf swing and the mental side of it. He is very laidback in everything he does but is very knowledgeable, said Agee, who is pursuing degrees in English and criminal justice.


(At their first tournament this year, eight days ago at the Georgetown College Invitational in Georgetown, Ky., the Cumberland women's team won by 111 strokes over three colleges, while the men's team won by 29 strokes over seven schools.)


Wilkerson began playing golf at age 9 and was a member of the Macon County High School team where he played No. 1 on the squad his junior and senior years for Coach Butch Creek. Upon graduation in 1985, he earned a golf scholarship to Tennessee Tech where his coach was the late Bobby Nichols, and he received a degree in elementary education.


From the college game, he tried his hand as a golf pro for two years on mini-tours and won an event in Barren River, Ky., in the early 1990s, snaring $2,500 in prize money.


Youve got to make some money to stay out there. The first year I made a little bit of money. After the second year I decided it was time to get a real job or get real serious. I never developed enough to where I felt I could make a living doing it, so I got on the business side of running a country club and teaching, Wilkerson said.


He served as the Director of Golf and PGA Head Golf Professional for 11 years at Oak Hills Country Club in Greenbrier.


When I left in 2004 it was a great little club, an 18-hole facility and a good little family golf course. Experience-wise it was one of the nicest places to learn that side of golf. I expanded it from a nine-hole to an 18-hole course and got a little taste of everything there.


It was that same year he became Cumberland mens golf coach and took the job with Adams Golf.{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=86|imageid=588|displayname=0|float=right}


I had a buddy who was a local sales rep, and he said, There is a tour position open. Youd be great for it. Youve got the personality. So I interviewed and got the job two weeks later. It was a quick transition as I went from being a club pro to college coach to tour rep.


Wilkerson, who maintains 1.6 golf handicap at the Old Hickory course, doesnt have a lot of time to play golf these days but manages to work in some practice rounds with his college players.


This past July provided the Tennessean with a golden memory when he met his childhood golf hero, Tom Watson, at the British Open, held at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Course in Lancashire, England.


I stood on the range and gave a short lesson. He asked me for it or I wouldnt have done it, Wilkerson said. It was one of the coolest moments in my life. It was pouring down rain, and he wouldnt leave and I wouldnt either. For an hour and a half, we were videoing and looking, just talking about golf and his swing, and he was a perfect gentleman.


Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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