Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Luke Manning

Ah, the innocence of youth. Over the past several weeks, I couldn’t help but notice this blonde haired kid at The Legends. It seemed that he was spending an awful lot of time at the golf course and everytime I saw him he was flashing this contagious, toothy grin.
The young gent (and he has earned that title) always had his shirt tucked in. He was extremely pleasant and well mannered. The kid was hard not to notice because it seemed that he was at the course almost everyday and certainly on every weekend.    
Meet Luke Manning. He is an 11-year old student at Mary Bryan Elementary School in the Perry Township District on the Southside of Indianapolis. His dad, Don, is a teacher and former golf coach at Southport High School. Luke reached out to me after my appearance on the Golf Fix last week through an email. On Saturday I gave him a free lesson and decided it was time I got to know this guy better.
In his own words, the young Manning tells about his love for golf. “I can’t wait for school to be over, especially on Friday because I know I can be at the golf course all weekend.  I love it there and I want to be a good player someday.”
Manning’s normal routine finds him at The Legends at least three weekdays  as well as all day Saturday and after church on Sunday. “My mom bought me a golf phone, so she can call and check on me…… make sure I am alright,” offered Manning.
Luke’s mind is years ahead of his age. He is well spoken, articulate and driven in his quest to become a good golfer. “I want to get more of my friends to play. Some of them think golf is boring. I really didn’t like golf that much until I started taking lessons from Scott Downing (PGA instructor). When I started getting better my attitude improved and now I love golf.”
Luke recently made the trip to Augusta National with his dad for the Tuesday Masters’ practice round. They got up at 5 a.m. and drove straight to Augusta on Monday. The Mannings were at the course when the gates opened early Tuesday morning. They went to the practice range and watched the world’s greatest players hit balls. Luke eventually positioned himself in the autograph gate where the players exit. He collected nearly 20 signatures.
“I got a bunch of autographs, like Ross Fisher, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, David Chung, Peter Uilhein and my favorite player- Rickie Fowler,” said Luke. “I like Rickie because he is different and I like being different. His clothes are really cool and I wish I was bigger so I could dress like him.”
Fowler is noted for colorful wardrobes and flat billed hats. He is an Oklahoma State grad and always wears solid orange on Sundays at PGA Tour events. Luke proudly carries a golf bag that is mostly orange with an OSU Cowboy headcover.
“I told Rickie that he was my favorite player and he said, ‘Thanks and good luck with your game’. Rickie signed for everybody and other players didn’t do that,” observed Luke. “I like the way he plays and hope to make his style mine.”
Later in the day, Luke and his dad ventured into Augusta National’s famed Amen Corner, Holes 11-13.
“Amen Corner was awesome. That was really the coolest part of the day. It just felt awesome to walk there on that part of the course. I told my dad that my goal is to be walking inside the ropes in 2022!” proudly boasted Manning.
When asked if there was anything else he could remember about his trip to The Masters practice round Luke said, “Yeah, we stayed in a hotel that was not that nice and the room smelled like PineSol. I remember that.”
 You gotta love the impetuous spirit of youth!
As you would expect, Luke Manning has his goals lined out. He wants to win at least one tournament on the Aquafina or Mountain Dew Tour here in Indiana this summer. Manning is signed up for 12 events. Next year he plans to break 40 and earn the #1 spot on his junior high golf team. Long term it is college golf. And, oh yeah, that date at the 2022 Masters.
In the meantime, Manning is determined to get more of his friends playing golf. When he returned from The Masters, he took the official program to school. The goal was to show his buddies just how cool golf can be. In his third summer of playing the game, Luke has already discovered all of the great things the game has to offer and he is the sports’ newest disciple.
On Saturday, after Luke concluded his lesson, he did what any “golf course rat” would do. He hung out and hit some more balls. He played nine holes and proudly showed me the scorecard reflecting his “46 under pretty windy conditions.”  In between times, he had the watchful eye of Melvin Bullitt and Ellis Johnson, stars for the Indianapolis Colts.
“Pretty amazing that he hits it that far,” laughed Bullitt. “It just goes to show that having a good swing and great timing is what golf is all about. He could show me a thing or two!”
Seriously, does it get any better for an 11-year old kid than this? Smacking golf balls with NFL stars; rubbing shoulders with his golf idol and roaming the hallowed ground of Amen Corner with his dad- that is a pretty solid 30 days for any golfer.
The best shot of the day by Luke Manning? It was his parting shot as we concluded the kid’s first and probably not his last interview.
“Golf is a blast,” said Manning. “Nothing compared to The Masters. I would rather go back to Augusta National than go to Disney World!”
In my opinion, that will be Luke’s best shot of the whole year- maybe his career!

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