Golf

Driving to bridge the gap

Odette Clemente shares a laugh with the guys  while playing as partners with The State Newspaper's Bob Gillespie against WNKT-107.5's  Benji Norton and WLTX-19 TV's Bob Shields at Hidden Valley Country Club.
Odette Clemente shares a laugh with the guys while playing as partners with The State Newspaper's Bob Gillespie against WNKT-107.5's Benji Norton and WLTX-19 TV's Bob Shields at Hidden Valley Country Club.

Jeanie Atkinson didn’t take up golf until her mid-40s, using the sport to get through a tough time. Now 54, she has won “six or seven” women’s championships at the Country Club at Woodcreek Farms.

Kelli Murphy, 12, began playing when she was 5. On Monday, she represented Lugoff High — which does not have a girls team — in the state high school Class 3A tournament.

What do these two golfers have in common? They share the Woodcreek women’s course record (2-under-par 70) and, on Sunday, they had a special reason to play.

They hoped to show Odette Clemente, who took up golf in December 2007 and has had her yearlong quest to become a competitive player chronicled by The State, what she can aspire to achieve.

The three met at the club in northeast Columbia for a nine-hole round arranged by Brad Frick, a former Woodcreek assistant professional and Clemente’s instructor. “She can learn a lot from both Jeanie and Kelli,” he said.

The lessons began before the trio reached the first tee.

Atkinson, in her eighth year playing, credits golf with helping her through a divorce. “I wanted to do different things; I had always ridden horses, but I had to sell my horse. Other people in my family played (golf), and the game helped me heal,” she said.

“It’s a game you can pick up later in life and still enjoy. It can bridge the gap between generations; Kelli and I can compete and enjoy it, regardless of our skill levels.”

Murphy, who learned the game from her father, Peter, has since taken lessons from local instructor Mike Castelluzzi. Mature for her age, she approaches the game with a serious focus — but also can laugh at inevitable mistakes.

Both reinforced to Clemente, 22 and a senior at USC, that she is taking the right route: lessons from a professional (Frick), practice and an emphasis on fundamentals. While Clemente has made progress, she still lacks the “feel” that Atkinson and Murphy possess.

At the par-4 first hole, Clemente topped her tee shot into the left rough. “I’m still always nervous on the first tee,” she said. “I think I try to swing too hard and that throws me off.” She managed a bogey, while Atkinson and Murphy made pars.

Clemente mostly made bogeys and doubles but was prone to a couple of “blowups.” At the long, par-4 second hole, her approach hooked into a greenside bunker, and she needed three shots to get out en route to an 8.

Such holes are not exclusive to beginners. Atkinson made a pair of double bogeys but saved strokes all day with her putter, and Murphy suffered a triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 sixth hole, which evoked a laugh.

“I can’t make a triple with my handicap (4),” she said.

Each had a highlight. Murphy nearly reached the par-5 fourth hole in two and made birdie, while Atkinson birdied the par-5 ninth. Clemente had a chance to win the sixth hole but three-putted from 30 feet.

Final scores: Atkinson, a 6-handicap, shot 3-over 39; Murphy posted a 41, and Clemente shot 54. “They’re good,” she said. “They’re both more consistent than I am.”

All three agreed Clemente’s driving is solid and her putting improved; mid-range irons and her short game hold her back. Clemente, unable to practice recently due to a new job and trips to New York and New Jersey, vowed to find more time.

“You looked good except for a few holes. It was a great effort,” Murphy told her.

“You’ve got a good, athletic swing, very flexible,” Atkinson said. “You’ve got the mechanics down; now you have to concentrate on your short game. But you’ve got the ability to do what you started out to do.”

That yearlong goal for Clemente is to play competitively with her stepfather, Danny Watson of Greenville. With two months remaining, she figures he will have to give her strokes.

“He’s pretty decent — at everything,” she said. Clemente? She’s getting there.

Reach senior writer Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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