Southern Union golfer from White Plains has chance to salvage a tough year playing in JUCO nationals
By Al Muskewitz
Kenny Okins’ first experience with college golf was nothing like he envisioned when he dreamed of taking his game to the next level while playing on the White Plains golf team.
His coach quit in the middle of the season. Several teammates either quit or got kicked off leaving the program with barely enough to score as a team. There was even talk of the program being disbanded. It was enough to make a player pack his golf bag, slam his trunk and chase the dream somewhere else.
But Okins, a freshman at Southern Union, stuck it out for his own reasons and now has the chance to have something good come out of all that disorder as he competes in the national junior college tournament next week in Odessa, Texas.
“There were a lot of different things going on,” Okins said the other day. “It was completely black and white for what I figured it would be.
“It definitely made me want to do it someplace else. The culture of a team it’s almost easier to play better. Kind of like last year with the White Plains team; we all wanted to play good because we had a chance to win every tournament and it’s a lot different feel going to a tournament knowing you just don’t have a chance.”
That uncertainty crept into his golf game and he admitted he hadn’t played well this season. But he kept his head down and played and his perseverance was rewarded with his best round of the year that helped qualify him for the nationals.
He shot a 67 in the second round of the district tournament that featured five birdies on a front nine that got the best of him the first time through. He shot 79-67-75 at Terry Pines in Cullman to finish T-7 and qualify as an individual.
The first time through the side he birdied No. 1 – his tenth hole of the round – to get to 1-under, then was 8-over coming home. The second time through he birdied 1 to get to 2-under, then birdied four of the next six holes. Had he birdied 8 and 9 coming in he’d have shot 29 on the side and hit an 8-iron into 8 that landed four feet from the hole and bounded off the back.
“It was probably some of the best nine holes I’ve played in a tournament at the best time to do it,” he said. “Obviously, I was very angry coming off the first round, but I made the turn, something clicked and I played very well.
“We kind of knew as a team we probably wouldn’t be able to qualify (for nationals), so this is really all I was working on for the entire year. To be able to actually pull it off is pretty cool.”
Before heading to Texas, he’ll play in local qualifying for the U.S. Open at Silver Lakes Thursday. He’ll have his father, Rick, on the bag, a good dress rehearsal for his acting as Okins’ coach at the nationals since he won’t have a Southern Union staffer with him.
He shot 74 in his first U.S. Open qualifying experience last year and it taught him a lot about grinding out a round on a difficult course. “The USGA plays long golf,” he said.
Former Tour pro Willy Wilcox of Pell City brings his personal comeback tour to the qualifier and headlines the field. Wilcox has captivated the golf world in recent weeks with stories of his battle with addiction and a desire to play on the Tour again.
Most recently he won an Emerald Coast Tour event by seven shots without the help of his “birdie pills,” finishing it off with a dramatic double eagle on the last hole.
Among the other players in the field who will be vying for five spots in the next stage are Layton Bussey, his former JSU teammate Max Basler, former U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and Vanderbilt signee Wells Williams, the sixth-ranked golf prospect in the country.
As for Okins’ future, he plans to return to Southern Union next season. The Bison is expected to have a golf team, signing two prospects to help fill out the roster. [*** read more]