Jeff McGill has helped nuture state golf tradition
BY MIKE FIELDS
BOWLING GREEN – An hour into a conversation with Jeff McGill about all things golf, including his views on the virtues the game teaches and his memories of winning the 1969 state title, he states the obvious: “I fall into the category of being a traditionalist.”
McGill, the pro at Bowling Green County Club, has certainly done his part to nurture the tradition of the Leachman Buick-GMC-Cadillac/KHSAA State Golf Championships by helping to host the event for more than 10 years.
“Growing the game is the reason I get up in the morning,” McGill said.
Early October is one of McGill’s favorite times of the year because more than 300 high school golfers come to his course to determine the girls’ and boys’ team and individual state golf champions.
McGill sees the future of the game — and society — in their faces.
“When I speak or make a presentation to a group, especially coaches of adolescents, I’m able to say without hesitation that golfers are always early, because they know they’ll be penalized if they’re late, they’re polite to the people around them, and they play by the rules.
“For the most part, golf attracts an element of society, as far as I can tell, that is above reproach. If Washington (D.C.) had that element, and not scoundrels who build their net worth when they get there, we’d be far better off.”
McGill, 65, has enjoyed the game most of his life. An all-round athlete, he took up golf when he was a kid and learned it, along with his mom and dad, at Owensboro’s Windridge Country Club.
“My early golf experience was always positive and fun-filled,” he said. “There was no downside to it.”
(His parents, Ben and Sparkie McGill still play golf at Windridge. Both are 87.)
McGill made Owensboro High’s golf team as an eighth-grader, and found a mentor in Bernie Smith, a senior who won the individual state title that year (1965).
McGill’s first state tournament was as a freshman at Seneca Golf Course in Louisville. He thought he was ready to prove he had plenty of game. “I shot 93-90. I think that was the fourth highest score there. Obviously I was disappointed, but rather than tuck my tail and run, I decided I was going to win the title before I graduated.”
He did just that as a senior, beating Jim Moore of Berea in a playoff at Fort Knox’s Anderson course.
McGill played college golf at Mississippi State, and went on to become one of Kentucky’s top club pros, competing against the likes of Larry Gilbert, for a decade.
But in the early 1980s, McGill had to choose between a hectic work life and his family, He chose his family. He gave up competing and began giving more golf lessons, an endeavor that got a big boost when PGA Tour player Brad Fabel enlisted his help.
In 1990, he moved from Madisonville to Bowling Green, and since then his reputation as an instructor has only grown.
He helped his own kids learn the game and all three played college golf — Maggie at Middle Tennessee, Jennifer at WKU and Matt at Miami (Ohio).
As for giving up competing in favor of giving lessons, McGill said, “I miss making birdies, but I don’t miss the effort it takes to make those birdies.”
He also takes satisfaction in helping stage one of the biggest annual golf events in Kentucky — the state high school tournaments.
Bowling Green’s Convention and Visitors Bureau has provided solid support, as has title sponsor Leachman Buick-GMC-Cadillac. The KHSAA staff and more than 150 volunteers help the competition “run like a sewing machine,” in McGill’s words.
Kentucky has produced its share of top-notch golfers over the years, and McGill has seen two of the best win at Bowling Green — Justin Thomas of St. Xavier, who helped Alabama win an NCAA title and is now a rising star on the PGA Tour; and Emma Talley of Caldwell County, who won the Women’s U.S. Amateur in 2013 and an NCAA title while at Alabama. She’s just now beginning her pro career.
McGill thinks having the state tournament at Bowling Green year after year enhances its stature.
“When Emma Talley comes here and shoots 10-under par for two days, that score has more merit than if they go to Possum Trot and the last girl that makes the cut shoots 10-under,” McGill said. “Having a consistent site lends more credibility to the medalists’ scores over the years.”
That’s called tradition, and Jeff McGill is a traditionalist.
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