The Waiting Game
Story and Photos by Hayden Lewis, PGA / Thursday, March 25, 2021
MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. (March 25, 2021) – Waiting. It’s a word we’ve become very familiar with over the last few months – for some, almost to the point where it’s exhausting.
Waiting for your favorite restaurant down the street to open its doors again.
Postponement of big events and concerts leaving you with the same phrase, “We’ll be back next year.”
“Just hold on and wait a little longer, we’re almost there.” Queue the waiting.
For 14-year-old Jackson Skinner, waiting has become the standard since he qualified for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals in late 2019 at Atlanta Athletic Club – he was 12 at the time. After attempting to qualify for the three seasons prior and not getting past the local stage, Jackson had punched his ticket to Augusta National Golf Club. Fast forward to March of 2020 – one month prior to the National Finals – the world seemed to be flipped upside down due to the ever-increasing risks associated with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Cancellations piled on top of each other, and we were headed into uncharted territory. One of these cancellations was the playing of the 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
“We were a little upset, but we also realized that there was a lot more going on,” says Jackson, who has been receiving his coaching all of his life from 2019 PGA Golf Professional of the Year, Eric Eshleman at the Country Club of Birmingham. “I think the immediate reaction was obviously disappointing,” says Vaughn Skinner, Jackson’s father. “Everything was still so new, and we didn’t know where we were headed. One thing Eric [Eshleman] kept saying to us was to just stay patient. He reassured us throughout the last few months that Jackson would still get his chance.”
Sure enough, one year later, Jackson is getting that chance to step on to the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club and compete in the 2021 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. We caught up some more with Jackson and his father at the Country Club of Birmingham’s state-of-the-art teaching facility to learn more about this two-year journey and the opportunity of a lifetime.
Jackson, how did you originally get into golf?
JS: My dad used to come out to CCB after work and he would bring me and my twin sister, Maggie. We would just mess around and hit balls and I remember enjoying being out here. We would also go out to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley to hit golf balls there.
VS: Jackson gravitated to the sport pretty early on, and he had a natural swing to build off of as he got older. Golf has always been a big family activity for us as my grandfather and grandmother both played the sport and got all of us into the game.
What do you think initially captured your attention and made you want to keep coming back to the game?
JS: I love how it’s different every day. You’re not going to have the same round or same part of your game on-point as you did the day before – I enjoy the challenge of this. The golf course is a place I like to be, it’s a chance for me to be around my friends and to spend time with my dad.
VS: It’s just like what everyone says, it truly is a game that mirrors life. You have your ups, and you have your downs – similar to what we are going through now. I think golf prepares you for those ebbs and flows of life.
That’s very true. Can you describe the process of going through qualifying for three years before actually getting out of the local stage? That had to have been tough.
VS: If you think about it, it’s a lot of work to actually get to these events and then the time that you are actually competing is only about ten minutes. Once they call your name you go through all of the stations and then you wait and see what the results are. It can be nerve-wracking because if you hit one drive out of the grid, you’re basically done.
Obviously, last spring, we all had to pivot in some form or fashion from our normality. How has the pandemic reshaped the way you all have prepared for the National Finals?
JS: I had to have a lot of patience. Luckily, with school getting delayed and moving to entirely virtual sessions it gave me a little more flexibility and I was able to practice at times where I would normally be in school.
VS: Jackson was able to spend a lot of time on the golf course once things began to open up some more at the end of last year. He made the middle school basketball team last fall and was able to take a break from golf for a little and picked it back up in January. I think this was a natural break from the game, which we all need sometimes.
Without giving too many of your secrets away, what has practice looked like for you as you prepare for Augusta?
JS: I guess I’m more focused on putting and chipping, but honestly, I’m mostly going in to have fun. I just want to practice the way that I would normally practice and see where I land. It’s six shots total, so I just want to take my time and enjoy it.
VS: We have a friend who Jackson has competed with and has also qualified for the National Finals that last two years. I was talking with his dad and he made a good point saying that once you’re there, you’ve already made it. Just the way Augusta National rolls out the red carpet, the actual competition just becomes icing on the cake. At the end of the day, Jackson has already done the hard part and now we get to enjoy taking it all in.
Absolutely, that’s going to be so special! Since it’s your first time being on the grounds, what are you most looking forward to seeing once you are there?
JS: Just the entire course. I mean, we see it on television every year, but I’ll bet it’s so different in person. I can’t wait to see some of the players too.
Switching gears to Eric, I know it seems like he has been teaching you your entire life. What does it mean to share all of this with him?
JS: It’s so great. He is a person I can really lean on and has become a mentor and friend. He says ‘hey’ every time we see each other. It’s really cool to see how friendly he is to everybody.
VS: He’s so intentional. Whether it’s the thirty minutes you spend with him on the lesson tee or you see him walking around the clubhouse, Eric always stops and makes time for you. He has been a great mentor for Jackson!
While Eric was not able to be present for our interview with the Skinners, we still asked him to comment on what this experience means as Jackson’s long-time PGA Coach and Instructor.
EE: It’s a true honor and distinction for our junior golf program at [the Country Club of Birmingham]. For all the efforts our staff puts into Junior Golf here at CCB, we truly could not be more thrilled for Jackson. He’s becoming a true ball striker and has developed a sound short game which has really improved his scoring. I’m excited that Jackson is a better person than he is a golfer and getting to go to [Augusta National Golf Club] is just an additional lifetime memory that golf is providing.
Over the past year, we’ve learned that patience and waiting coincide, go hand-in-hand – they’re never far apart from one another. In golf, patience is arguably one of the greatest virtues you could have under the heated pressure of competition. It allows us to stay in the moment and understand the bigger picture of what’s happening around us. Perhaps the ‘waiting game’ of the sports world is, in fact, golf. As it is true in life, golf gives us a chance to slow down and enjoy the hand we’ve been dealt, whatever this may look like.
The hand Jackson was dealt wasn’t ideal, but he’s clearly made the most of it – leaving us with the following comment about what this past year has given him.
“I just think of it as having more time to practice.”
Media Contact: Hayden Lewis, PGA – firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT DRIVE, CHIP AND PUTT
A joint initiative founded in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and The PGA of America, Drive, Chip and Putt is a free nationwide junior golf development competition aimed at growing the game by focusing on the three fundamental skills employed in golf. By tapping the creative and competitive spirit of girls and boys ages 7-15, Drive, Chip and Putt provides aspiring junior golfers an opportunity to play with their peers in qualifiers around the country.
ABOUT THE ALABAMA–NW FLORIDA PGA
The Alabama – NW Florida PGA is one of 41 Sections that make up the PGA of America. Our Section is headquartered in the Birmingham suburb of Pelham, Alabama at Ballantrae Golf Club. Established in 1969, the Section consists of over 400 Members and Associates in the state of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Section exists to support its Members who are the driving force to growing the sport and business of golf.