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Local youth golfer experiences PGA atmosphere

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BOB STRICKLEY


PDT Sports Editor


After seven PGA Championships the scene could be becoming old hat to PGA teaching professional Bob Sowards, but he found a way to liven up his latest PGA experience and use it as an opportunity for aspiring golfer and Wheelersburg-native Mitchell McFarland.


Sowards, who is originally from Minford, will tee off at 12:30 p.m. today as the PGA Championship visits the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C. He invited his pupil, McFarland, to be his caddy during the practice rounds Monday.


“I wanted to get him inside the ropes and see things from a different angle and see how the professionals go about it,” Sowards said. “It worked out really well for him I think.”


Sowards has competed, in his estimation, 35 to 40 PGA Tournaments. The professional atmosphere is something he has grown accustomed to from his experience but he thought it could be an educational experience for McFarland.


“As I put it, he has the guts to play the game,” Sowards said. “The best thing about him is his ability to go low. He is not a finished product by any means but this will help him see how it is done. He got to be around Tiger and all those guys at the range and see how they go about their work.”


McFarland embraced his work as a caddy.


“It’s a lot harder than people think it is with those bags but luckily this course is fairly flat,” McFarland said.


The 14-year-old and incoming freshman at Wheelersburg High School has been working with Sowards for three years and was recently named Midwest Junior Tour Player of the Year by the publication Golfweek.


As two sons of Scioto County, both Sowards and McFarland are veterans of The Elks Country Club and McFarland’s father, Matt, said he sees the rapport the two have as products of the area.


“With both of them being from the same place Bob has an idea of where Mitchell is coming from,” Matt McFarland said. “I can’t say enough about the kindness of Bob Sowards bringing Mitchell to an event like this. It’s a great opportunity for him to learn and it is an example of how the PGA is always focused on learning.”


Sowards finds appeal in the student and instructor being from rival high schools.


“A Wheelersburg guy and Minford guy together. Who would have thought of it?” he said.


Today’s tee times are weather-pending as the players have dealt with unpredictable storms all week. That has prevented some of the work that would otherwise be done on the links, but Sowards has put in 36 holes of preparation for today’s start.


“It has been really hot and the thunderstorms come and go,” Sowards said. “This course is difficult to pitch to so you really need to hit your greens.”


A veteran of playing with the pros, Sowards felt his mental state was where it needed to be entering Thursday.


“It’s fantastic to play against some of the best in the world and it is a dream come true,” he said. “I see some of the first-timers here all wide-eyed, but I don’t get nervous anymore.”


Sowards’ student sees a successful run coming.


“I know he can do it,” Mitchell McFarland said. “He is a great putter.”


The McFarlands will stick around to watch Sowards compete, this time from the outside of the ropes looking in. The experience is one that now ranks at the top of Mitchell’s golf experiences.


“This is the coolest thing I have done so far in my golf career,” he said.


Television coverage of the first round of the PGA Championship at Kaiwah Island starts at 1 p.m. today on TNT.


Bob Strickley may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 203, or bstrickley@heartlandpublications.com.

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