The clinics were part of a week of events leading up to the Epson Tour’s 2023 Wildhorse Ladies Golf Classic that began Aug. 18
By CHRIS AADLAND, CUJ
MISSION, Ore. — Next time Dreux Hall Spencer plays golf, he’ll bring an improved game to impress his playing partners thanks to a morning spent up close to some talented professionals.
Hall Spencer, a Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation tribal member and incoming 7th grader, also plays baseball and, according to him, is called Babe Ruth by his teammates because he’s known to “hit the high balls and get the dingers.”
But after spending a recent Tuesday morning at the Wildhorse Golf Course exposed to, and learning from, professionals who would be playing in a tournament at the course days later, Hall Spencer said he’s got an itch to start playing more golf.
“It just actually makes me want to play golf more” he said, adding that he finished second during a putting competition among his age group in addition to picking up some tips to improve his backswing and stance. “I learned a lot of things and it’s just awesome. I’ll remember that next time I play golf.”
Hall Spencer and dozens of other kids spent the morning at the course improving their skills and watching some of the best up-and-coming golfers in the world hit drives, pitches and putts during the Aug. 15 youth clinic. The instructional clinic was part of a week of events leading up to approximately 140 professional players teeing it up in the 2023 Wildhorse Ladies Classic Epson Tour Tournament.
This is the second year Wildhorse Resort and Casino and the CTUIR has hosted the tour – a developmental for players competing to earn a promotion to the top women’s golf league in the world, the LPGA Tour – at the Wildhorse Golf Course.
Although the three-day tournament officially started Aug. 18, the days leading up to the competition included a number of events for the public, including a morning youth clinic at Wildhorse and another later in the day at the Golf Course at Birch Creek.
The marquee instructors at the clinics included several of the professionals – the next generation of stars in women’s golf – who would be teeing it up later in the week during the tournament.
Instead of spending the morning on the course practicing, those pros showed off their skills, dished out advice at different stations, gave out high-fives and signed autographs for participants.
Athletic wear retailer Nike, who organized the instructional events, hosts clinics at professional golf tournaments throughout the country to inspire youth to get involved in sports or be more active, said Aaron Harris, North America Brand Specialist for Nike and the MC of the Aug. 15 clinic.
“For us, it’s just about trying to get kids moving,” he said. “We believe at Nike, that kids that move, move the world.”
Nike sponsored the clinics under its N7 brand, the company’s division dedicated to supporting Indigenous youth with clothing and shoe lines designed collaboratively with Native artists or with Indigenous-inspired designs, like it does at other tribally hosted tournaments.
“We don’t know what their home life is like. This could be like their biggest thing they do all year, and so it’s really exciting to get them out,” Harris said. “Hopefully, they’ll look back and go, ‘you know, this is kind of where I got into the sport, it’s where I got active.’”
Among the pros who helped the youth at the clinic was Gabby Lemieux, who is the first Native American to play on the Epson Tour. Lemieux, a member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, also became the first Native female to play in the U.S. Women’s Open, one of the most prestigious tournaments for female professional golfers, in 2022.
CTUIR tribal members Bradley and Waylon Breazeale were among those who participated in the clinic at Wildhorse. Waylon said his brother Bradley has played golf for about a year, while he’s played for about three.
Taking part in the clinic – and being able to see how the professionals prepare to play – “gave me an opportunity to learn more,” to use the next time he hits the course with his cousins at Wildhorse, his usual playing companions, Waylon Breazeale said.
Another participant, 11-year-old Laci Jo Martinez, who came to the clinic from Walla Walla and has tried other sports like basketball and soccer, said she was just starting to pick up golf.
While she said learning about chipping mechanics and the role your hands play in the short game was the most valuable advice she got during the day, being so close to – and interacting with – professional athletes was the most exciting part of the day.
“It feels really cool that we could just go up and talk to them right now,” Martinez said at the clinic during a break.
For Hall Spencer, watching the pros during a shot demonstration and competition, and noting “how they practice, how they’re looking, and just how they’re thinking,” was just as valuable and motivating as the one-on-one tips he got from them, he said.
He said he was amazed because one thing he didn’t see throughout the day was any of the professionals hit a shot that was seemingly anything other than flawless.
“That’s a fun experience to watch some pro players just … hit it perfect every time,” Hall Spencer said. “But it would’ve been funny to see one miss.”