Durham teen golfer gets taste of the pros

Durham 17-year-old Clayson Good got to play at Pebble Beach as part of the First Tee program that supports junior golfers. (Photo courtesy of First Tee)

As one of 78 junior golfers nationwide chosen to participate in last weekend’s PGA Tour Champions event in Monterey Peninsula, California, Clayson Good got a rare opportunity to experience what it’s like to play in a professional event.

The good, the bad and the windy.

Paired with pro Doug Barron, the 17-year-old high school senior from Durham made his share of birdies during the first two rounds of the PURE Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee. He also got show off his personality to a national television audience while seeing first-hand the worth ethic it takes to play compete at the highest level.

At the same time, he learned how difficult playing golf for a living can be — especially when Mother Nature decides to transform a picturesque golf cathedral like Pebble Beach into a raging wind tunnel.

“My main takeaway from playing with a golf professional in a tournament setting like the PURE Championship is that professional golfers have good and bad shots,” Good said. “It’s really how they respond to those shots. I saw pros, Doug included, that had shots they didn’t like, but were still able to par a hole. They stayed relaxed and in the moment. That’s a good reminder to me to do the same when I’m on the course.”

An all-conference performer for Jordan High School who plans to play for and attend Queens University in Charlotte next year, Good earned his spot in the best ball team event by going through a rigorous screening process sponsored by First Tee — a national organization designed to promote junior golf.

He learned of his selection in July after playing in the final round of the North & South Junior Championship at Pinehurst.

“I watched on my phone as I warmed up until my tee time,” Good said. “They hadn’t announced the Southeast participants yet. I played the entire round not knowing if I was selected or not. After my round, my family started texting and calling me. Everyone was excited for me and I couldn’t believe I was going to play Pebble Beach with the pros. It was so exciting.”

Paired with Barron, a 50-year-old “rookie” on the Champions tour, Good got off to a promising start Friday in the opening round at Poppy Hills Golf Course, nearly making a hole-in-one on his way to a four-birdie round.

Walking off the course excited about the way he played, Good was ready to sit back and savor the experience. But as he quickly learned, that’s not what professionals do when there’s still more golf to be played.

“After our first tournament round, Doug and I had lunch together along with my dad,” the youngster said. “He asked what I was doing after lunch. He was going to practice. I thought I might rest more but didn’t want to be out-hustled.

“Doug really help me with my chipping and gave me some suggestions during our practice time. It meant a lot to me for him to take the time to do that.”

Good got even more of a golf education the next afternoon at Pebble Beach, when wind gusts off the Pacific Ocean turned the round into a battle for survival. It was a battle he and Barron lost when they missed final round cut by two strokes.

“The course conditions at Pebble on Saturday were challenging,” Good said. “The 25-mph winds coming off the ocean were no joke. I needed to have played better at Poppy Hills the previous day to go low and make the cut. Missing the cut was hard, but it won’t be the last time I miss one. Pros still miss cuts sometimes.”

As difficult as Saturday’s blustery round was, Good did have at least one shining moment.

It came on the seventh hole in the form of a birdie putt that was shown to a national television audience via Golf Channel and seen by a multitude of family members and friends back home in North Carolina.

“After I was on TV making my birdie putt on Hole 7 at Pebble, I got lots of texts later in the day,” he said. “I had my hat on backwards, shirt half untucked. The wind was so crazy I could barely keep my clothes on. I pointed to the camera after my birdie putt and my family and friends thought that was funny. I wanted to make my mark and show my passion for the game.”

Barron, who scored his first Champions victory at an event in Endicott, New York, in August, was impressed with the way Good handled himself on the course during the tournament.

“He’s obviously got great parents because his social skills were phenomenal,” Barron said. “He was very enjoyable to hang out with. I’ve got an 18-year-old son and a 13-year-old son and, honestly, he reminded me a lot of my sons. He’s very good with adults, not intimidated at all. He’s a very confident young man and we had a great time.

“The only thing I felt bad about is that we didn’t make the cut. I tried my heart out coming in. He played great. We both played pretty well. The weather was crazy the second day. But he had a great experience, I hope.”

It was a weekend Good said will serve as inspiration as he prepares to take the next step in his golf career.

“To stand on the same tee boxes, walk on the same fairways, and putt on the same greens as legends of the game, it is just priceless,” he said. “To be able to play with Champion Tour pros and see how they handle the stress of playing at that level, it really helps put my game in perspective.”