Connection

Randy Watkins’ love of golf takes him to the U.S. Open and mentoring young players on the sport.

Sports are a hobby for many, but one Northsider understands the connections that can be gained through sports.

Business owner and golf aficionado Randy Watkins often speaks to young golfers about the importance of building their career in Mississippi, as their home state has a lot to offer.

He touts the importance of being immersed in a community, especially in one’s home state.

Watkins, who now runs three Jackson area golf courses, recently spoke to the Rotary Club of North Jackson about his career in golf and his work with those just getting started in the sport.

“It’s been my life since I was a little boy,” Watkins said of the sport.

His father was a big lover of golf, and that inspired him to first pick up a club.

“He hooked me on the game of golf,” Watkins said.

He remembers what he felt the first time he hit a golf ball.

“I hit it and I liked it and there was no looking back,” he said.

Watkins went on to play in the U.S. Open following a successful golf career at the University of Mississippi. But his connection to the U.S. Open goes further back than that.

He lost his father on Easter Sunday 10 years ago.

“The U.S. Open was always our deal,” he said. “He loved the Masters first, but he loved the U.S. Open second because his thought was that was our national Open.”

It was a goal for Watkins to play in it one day.

“I was lucky enough to do that in ’84 when I was 22 years old. At 22, you don’t know what you’re doing,” Watkins said.

He said he played six to eight programs before that, but he said it was difficult to walk out there after college and stand next to Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

“You know, all your heroes are out there. It was a lot to get used to,” he said.

He played in New York City and remembers that feeling of being so nervous for what was ahead.

During the practice round, he said it was all about getting out there and checking out the golf course while playing.

“It’s just difficult. A really taxing thing,” he said.

None of his friends made it to the Open, so he said he did not have anyone to play a practice round with.

“I went up to the first people I saw. He said, ‘You got a game?’ And he said, ‘You do now.’” Watkins recalled.

Describing the feeling of playing next to all of the people he looked up to for so long, Watkins reflected on how important it is to mentor young people in sports and encourage them to stay in Mississippi.

“There are a lot of young people interested in golf,” Watkins said. “There are eight or nine kids from Mississippi that are competing professionally or doing well in college. Young people in Mississippi are really doing well.”

Watkins said it is a treat for him to speak with groups of young people and encourage them to stay in Mississippi.

“Even though I’m an old guy to the kids. I can relate to the recruiting process,” he said.

He speaks from experience on community support for young athletes, recalling the helping hands from Ole Miss who aided him during his college career.

“I tell that to kids all the time,” he said.

He said it may look good to go out of state for college, but he said the support system from one’s hometown or state is unrivaled.

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