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May 6, 2013

SUNBELT SENIOR TOUR: Trick-shot artist Whitty kicks off 6th annual Yellowhammer Open

FAIRVIEW — Give John Whitty a pressure putt under tournament conditions, and he’ll definitely start to feel the heat. Ask Whitty to smash a drive off a tee standing as high as his waist, though, and he won’t even break a sweat.

Such is the life of a trick-shot artist.

“Golf golf, like a 10-foot putt, is very difficult,” said Whitty, who opened the sixth annual Yellowhammer Open with a 20-minute show Monday morning at Chesley Oaks Golf Course. “What I do out here comes easy to me because I’ve done it so long, and I’m very comfortable with it. I’m able to miss a shot, play it off with a little humor, tee up another ball, press on and still get paid. These pros, when they miss a shot, they don’t get paid.”

Golf has been a part of Whitty’s life since his early teens, but he didn’t become the trick-shot expert he is today until much later. While competing on the national long-driving circuit, Whitty noticed many of his fellow golfers were traveling all over to put on their own trick shows — and making a pretty penny while they were at it.

That last part didn’t sound too shabby to Whitty, who decided to try the specialized profession out for himself. He had to put in a great deal of work to get his feet off the ground, and it didn’t always pay off — at least not at first, with Whitty having to break in the business by performing at hundreds of free exhibitions and charity events.

One would imagine Whitty experienced a bit of a learning curve while building and perfecting his trick-shot repertoire, but he said that was never the case because he was blessed to be born with above-average hand-eye coordination.

“On a driving range, I could watch peoples’ misses and try and emulate that shot, just try and make it go the same way they were,” Whitty said. “That was pretty much how I learned.”

More than 20 years since his trick-shot career took off, Whitty now touts a polished routine full of crowd-pleasers, jaw-droppers and jokes. There were plenty of all three at the kickoff of the Sunbelt Senior Tour’s latest event on Monday, as Whitty captivated his rain-soaked spectators with his tricks of the trade and a decent amount of audience participation.

Whether it was with the oversized driver, the driver with the wobbly shaft or his tiered tower of tees, no “regular” golfer was able to come even close to matching Whitty’s ball-striking prowess. In fact, most of the participants had trouble hitting the ball at all, especially from the tall tees that required swings more commonly seen on the baseball field rather than the golf course.

“They always want to see distance, but they love that,” Whitty said of his favorite shot off the high tees. “Inevitably, they’ll break the pole and it gets everybody going. I’ve just done it so many times it comes natural to me. In fact, I can probably hit better off that than a normal tee.”

Whitty’s held shows all over the country, but this was his first trip to Cullman. He’s only been here a couple of days, but he’s already become a fan of Chesley Oaks.

“We’ve been treated as well as any place we’ve ever been,” said Whitty, who is from Myrtle Beach, S.C. “There’s a good staff, and I love the course. It’s nice and open.”

With his bag of tricks packed for the week, Whitty planned to play in Monday’s pro-am — before it was rained out — a precursor to the 54-hole event that will get going today and conclude on Thursday. Asked where he usually finishes in the professional portion of each tournament, Whitty went with a trick answer — of course.

“I finish,” he said with a laugh.



% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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