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Growing into the game

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Spencer Fairbanks has been looking for a way to improve his putting, and he may have found it Monday afternoon.

The Columbus North incoming sophomore noticed a drill that PGA Tour pro Jeff Overton demonstrated at a clinic on the Otter Creek putting green. The free clinic kicked off this week’s AJGA Jeff Overton Classic hosted by Otter Creek.

“I’ve been looking for a drill for putting, and his drill with the two golf clubs aligned really close to your putter, I’m probably going to start doing that,” Fairbanks said. “Hopefully, that helps.”

Fairbanks and Connor Opalka, who will be a senior at North, are among the 102 boys entered in the tournament, which begins at 7 a.m. today and concludes Thursday. The field will be cut after Wednesday’s second round.

Besides the putting technique, Overton demonstrated how to hit a greenside chip shot.

“I think what he said was helpful,” Opalka said. “Looking at things different ways like different ways to hit shots and different types of lies was helpful. I hadn’t thought about it the way he had said it.”

“It was cool to hear his perspective on how to hit shots because everyone does something a little bit different, but the way he does it works really well,” said Sydney Anderson, who will be a senior at North and is one of 42 girls entered.

Overton’s goal was to lead kids to hit shots that they feel comfortable hitting.

“A lot of clinic chipping, people teach you stuff, and they’re like ‘You have to do it this way,’” Overton said. “There’s never only one way to do something. The way to do something is the way each individual feels comfortable doing it. It was just a fun little clinic to kind of let the kids be more aware of how to use the bounce of the club to understand overall how to do what they want to do.”

The clinic, which was delayed about a half-hour because of rain, was open to the public, and a few potential future stars took advantage. Larry Critzer of Columbus brought his grandson, Andrew Krueger, 11.

“It was cool,” Krueger said.

Overton is currently nursing a twisted knee that is keeping him out of action on the PGA Tour. That kept him from hitting drives and iron shots Monday, but not chips and putts.

“Jeff is a very personable person and relates well to people,” Critzer said. “You can tell he cares about the sport, and he knows the youth is what’s going to grow it.”

That was one of the reasons Overton was glad to make the trip to Columbus for the clinic.

“I was talking to somebody who came in from Marietta, California, and all the way up there in Ontario, Canada, and it’s pretty incredible to have 144 kids from all over the country come in and get to see what Indiana golf is like,” Overton said.

“There’s so many good things about the game of golf,” he said. “It represents so many awesome aspects in life. It teaches you etiquette and all kinds of things, so it’s neat to get to do something like this.”

An Evansville native and Indiana University graduate, Overton holds the Otter Creek course record at 64.

“I grew up on public golf courses, and this is one of the top 10 public courses in the country,” Overton said. “There’s a lot of history here for both me and Indiana golf, and also the juniors who get to come and enjoy an event like this. The AJGA is almost like the PGA Tour of junior golf anymore, and they do so many good things.”

One of those things is giving back to the community. Before Monday’s clinic, the AJGA presented an $18,500 check to The First Tee of Columbus, which will launch in the fall in Bartholomew County elementary schools.

“The whole premise has always been to get The First Tee started in Columbus with the proceeds from this tournament,” said Matt Herron, committee chairman for The First Tee of Columbus. “It’s a huge help to get us started.”

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