A line of thunderstorms threatened to spoil the afternoon but eventually passed in time for 12-year-old Tyler Campbell to get in his warmup routine at Schifferdecker Golf Course.
The youth golfer from Neosho likes to arrive to the course about 30 minutes before the start of his PGA Junior League practices. By doing so Wednesday, he was the first of his teammates to take to the putting green as he began his usual short-game regimen -- a few putts from short range, a few putts from longer range and then some chips from the fringe until it was time for his practice round to begin.
"I don't mind practicing because it's fun to me," said Campbell, a fifth-year golfer, as he practiced his putting from about 10 feet. "I'm getting better because I've been out here a lot this summer."
Right on cue, Campbell drained back-to-back putts and then gave a wry smile.
"I couldn't always hit it this straight until recently," he said.
Heading into the summer, Campbell decided to join the PGA junior team at Schifferdecker so he could spend more time developing skills and competing in the sport he loves. The 13-and-under squad started its season in June and plays one head-to-head scramble per week against fellow league teams from Carthage, Twin Hills and Briarbrook.
Each team in the PGA Junior League, which currently comprises more than 42,000 youth participants around the nation, is designated a PGA club professional as its captain. For Schifferdecker, the captain is 29-year-old Daryn Buholt, whose role on the team includes duties similar to those of a coach.
"This is our third year to have a league here in the Joplin area, and it's honestly been a lot of fun for me and the kids," said Buholt, a Central Oklahoma graduate who earned his PGA certification in December 2013. "This year, we have a lot of new players on the team who have all played a little bit of golf, so they have talent. They're young and still learning the game, so it's all about having fun with friends and developing a few skills in the process."
The purpose of mentoring the Schifferdecker team, according to Buholt, is to provide a social, inclusive learning environment for the kids at each practice, game and postseason event.
"At this level, you'll have kids with varying ages, skill levels and personalities, but they all just want to go out there and have fun," he said. "They want to have fun with their friends, and it's all about hitting that one good shot and celebrating with each other. So, even though this is an inpidual sport, the junior league has created a team environment for these young players to enjoy and learn. That's the most important part of what we're trying to do."
The four-team league in the Joplin area will finish out its regular season on July 15 and then take part in a nation-wide playoff system that holds sectionals in August, regionals in September and then a national championship in November.
Postseason teams are made up of 12 all-stars from each league, and the number of all-star selections from each team depends on its league finish at the end of the regular season -- first-place teams earning the most all-star selections and fourth-place teams earning the least.
"Our postseason team has played a team from northwest Arkansas (at sectionals) the past two years, but we haven't made it past that round yet," Buholt said. "But like I said, we have a lot of talent this year, so there's a chance we can advance a bit further. But as long as the kids continue to enjoy the sport and learn some things, it'll be considered another successful year."
The PGA Junior League was created in 2011 with 123 teams competing among a handful of cities -- Atlanta, Tampa, Dallas and San Diego. The organization now boasts over 3,400 teams across the nation and had garnered ambassadors such as professionals Rory McIlroy, Michelle Wie, Rickie Fowler and Lexi Thompson.
This article is written by Jared Porter from The Joplin Globe, Mo. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.